Monday, July 6, 2009

Unanimous Juries: Inconvenient Constitutional Guarantees versus Efficient Dictatorship

Oregon is one of only two states that allow non-unanimous juries in criminal trials. In today's New York Times article ("In Two States, a Lower Bar for Conviction"), Clatsop County DA Josh Marquis points out that it's simply more efficient to ignore the jury holdouts and avoid a hung jury with Oregon's 10-2 jury rule.

He is absolutely correct. It turns out that preserving our constitutional rights isn't very efficient. Despite that, our Constitution protects us from the government in several inefficient ways. For instance, the government can't take property without due process. It would definitely be easier if the government could take your home without those pesky imminent domain proceedings.

And surely it would be easier if the government could take away your guns; it's much more efficient to police the public when they are unarmed.

Our state and federal constitutions are here to protect individuals from the government. Sometimes that's inconvenient for the government. Too bad. Harry Truman said it best at a lecture at Columbia University in 1959: "Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship."

Photo: The Jury by John Morgan, an 1861 painting of a Britsh Jury