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[Opinion] 1st Anniversary of Jury Trials

Posted December. 25, 2008 06:45,   


“Random People,” a play about the jury system, was performed in October. It showed how a nine-member jury reaches a verdict through discussion. A Vietnamese woman is charged with killing her mother-in-law while living with her Korean husband in a rural area. The audience focused on juror perspectives on the tragic life of the Vietnamese woman. In the beginning, several jurors suggest deciding guilt or innocence simply by a show of hands, but they take the case more seriously as time passes.

The play sheds light on how each juror’s personal and family background and life experience affect the verdict. Unwittingly, the jurors develop empathy for the woman, linking their own experiences with the hardship and pain the defendant endured. In the play, the jury’s empathy plays an important part in dramatizing the story, but in a real trial, it is important to assess objective and circumstantial evidence. A 20-something man charged with killing his own mother was cleared of murder yesterday in a 6-3 jury verdict after a three-day trial at the Seoul Central District Court. The jurors in the trial probably had a heated debate as seen in “Random People.”

The jury system will soon mark its first anniversary in Korea. Some suggest that the system violates the Constitution as it infringes on the right to receive a ruling from a judge. Critics say it is unconstitutional for non-legal professionals to participate in the process of rendering a verdict. If the system can be properly run, however, it can help the judiciary recover the people’s trust without damaging the spirit of trial by judge. For instance, a judge can make a ruling independently by using the jury’s opinion only as a reference.

The jury system is on a trial basis, but is only the first step. A jury trial can only be held if a defendant wants it and the court accepts. Of 223 jury trial requests this year, only 60 were granted, mainly for serious crimes such as murder, theft, assault and sexual crimes. Though judges and juries agreed on 88.1 percent of the cases, 88.5 percent of defendants appealed the decisions. This illustrates that the jury system is not yet efficient considering the tremendous energy, time and cost put into it.

Editorial Writer Yook Jung-soo (sooya@donga.com)