Josephine County, Oregon (Dorothea Lange). Left-click photo to enlarge.
Hop picker with her children goes from paymaster's window to adjoining company-owned store. She had earned forty-two cents that morning, spent it for one pound bologna sausage, one package "Sensation" cigarettes, one "mother's cake."
In criminal trials, jurors are asked to decide on the guilt of defendants without knowledge of the possible consequences of a conviction. At first glance, this seems like a good idea; let the jury decide the facts and leave it to the judge to apply a sentence within the guidelines of the law.
When we refuse to let juries know the truth about the consequences of a conviction in a criminal case we hamper a jury's ability to check the abuse of power. Juries that are not fully informed can't do their job. Withholding truth from juries is dishonest.
We do it every day in Connecticut and call it justice. We refer to juries as the conscience of the community, but we don't treat jurors with such regard. We treat them as moral idiots unsuited to reckon the consequences of their acts...
In what other context do we ask folks to make a decision regardless of the outcome? Recklessness and justice are not twin sisters.
The instructions to jurors famously include the phrase "proof beyond a
reasonable doubt" but, almost as famously, the word "reasonable" is
never defined for the jury. It's left to the jurors themselves to
figure out what it means. And as a practical matter, wouldn't you
expect that the reasonableness of the doubt depends on the consequences
of being wrong?
Call it a vast linguistic conspiracy: proponents of the major conspiracy theories of the day — the truthers, the birthers, the deathers — share a suffix that makes them all sound like whackdoodles. Leslie Savin