Taking a Hard Look at the Jury System

Posted By July 23, 2002 No Comments

Reprinted with the kind permission of the author, Morely Lymburner, editor of Blue Line Magazine, whose commentary from the June-July 2002 edition of Canada’s national law enforcement magazine is reprinted here.

Maurice (Mom) Boucher is finally behind bars. This is expected to be his home until well past his CPP eligibility and at best he will never see the other side of the pipes for the rest of his life. This person has shown a cunning ruthlessness seldom seen anywhere in the world, let alone Canada. I am sure he will be a model inmate and sadly missed by the Hell’s Angels. [1]

Now that the trial is over perhaps it is time for legislators to take a long serious look at the rules of court procedure. Exceptional times require exceptional laws and in this day of intimidation and terror it should not mean putting up a blind to hide the juror’s identity. Under these circumstances there should be zero risk of contaminating the court room. One manner in which such matters could be dealt with would be by eliminating the right to a jury trial under certain circumstances.

In the Boucher matter there is no way a jury should be put under this amount of stress. They were trying a ruthless criminal in charge of a terrorist organization with almost unlimited resources to seek revenge. The court and police officers went to extreme measures to protect these jurors by putting up blinds so courtroom spectators could not see them. The jury was sequestered with very high security throughout the trial and during their deliberations. But what about now? Who is taking care of the citizens who were burdened with this task?

It is time new laws were introduced that strip away the right to a jury trial under certain circumstances. Cases in which jurors could be exposed to a high level of danger or even anxiety would include biker trials and those accused of terrorist acts. As a mater of note, there are no greater terrorists in contemporary society than outlaw motorcycle gangs. Their entire existence relies heavily on intimidation of average citizens and authority figures alike. Two dead federal corrections officers attest to this.

Parliament should draft legislation immediately that would address this problem. At a preliminary hearing the Crown should be permitted to make application to have the trial by Judge or Judges alone. The Italian justice system found that it was far easier to protect one judge for the rest of his life than hundreds of average citizens from which a jury is drawn.

For years the need for jury trials has been brought into question. In the year 1215, when the Magna Carta granted trial by jury, it was an age when almost everyone spent their entire life in one village. It made the jury trial process manageable. Almost every person in the community had skills that did not exceed ten professions or occupations. Almost every person knew everyone else and knew how their friends and families could be accommodated within that community. If terror and organized crime existed at all it was at the government level and had to be tolerated at best.

Today’s society has become much more complex than the era in which the jury trial process was first created. We are much more mobile, far more communicative and of course far deadlier than at any time in history. How can we expect to be assured that jury trials are free from intimidation in this day and age?

Arguments in favour of the jury system point out that juries can find someone not guilty by virtue of bad law even if they agree the person violated the law. The bad law doctrine, however, should not be the issue in trying members of organized crime groups.

Organized crime groups thrive on intimidation on the streets and in the headlines to help back up the threat of reprisals for those who would try to stop or even interfere with their activities. A big part of the Hell’s Angels success is the ruthless business of “taking care of business.” This means an intention to never let anyone get away with impeding their activity. If even one is left ignored or unpunished then their business fails. In such matters, and if left unchecked, every citizen in this country is simply a pawn that lives or dies at their whim. Society cannot tolerate this attitude nor permit an environment that supports it.

When dealing with individual criminal trials, jury trials can still work. But not so for organized crime groups. The organizations that come part and parcel with the individual criminal is far more problematic than the pawns they sacrifice. It is the organization that the public must be protected from. It is the organization that is the square root of all fears. Long after an individual is squeezed between the pipes [police slang for being jailed – ed.] the organization can busy itself “taking care of business” to ensure any one of the twelve jurors are gotten to as an example for the rest of the society. If they don’t hesitate to kill correctional officers I am sure they won’t hesitate to intimidate a stock broker, store merchant or housewife. [2]

Society can no longer afford the luxury of jury trials in these situations. Italy has proved it… Canada should adopt it.