Mayville: In court, thoroughness must trump efficiency

In the modern American justice system, we are faced with an important question: Is it better to be speedy in our rulings, or accurate in our judgments? Current trends suggest that we value efficiency over thoroughness, but the justice system may be suffering because of the preference.

A friend of mine served on a jury two years ago, and the general opinion she shared about the mindset of her fellow jurors was that most of them simply wanted to go about their day without the obligation to serve on a jury.  

Sitting on a jury, though, is one of the most significant duties an American citizen can perform. Juries protect the rights of the accused, but if a jury does not care enough to consider all of the evidence with which it is presented, how can we expect it to come to a decision that gives fair consideration to the position of the defendant?

Of additional concern is the degree to which we represent those accused in our country with public defenders. I have seen court-appointed attorneys work hard and give their clients quality defenses, but court-appointed attorneys tend to have several cases going to trial in rapid succession.     A public defender wants to consider every single avenue a defense could take before selecting a strategic course of action, and so there is simply not enough time to handle more than one case per week at the most.

The Cullen v. Pinholster case that was recently heard by the Supreme Court of the United States suggests that trial defenders would benefit from a lightened caseload. The California-based case generally concerned the inadequate assistance of counsel during the mitigating and aggravating evidence step in Scott Pinholster's trial. Pinholster was found guilty of first-degree murder among other charges and sentenced to death.

In Pinholster's case, the only mitigating evidence presented to the jury was the testimony of his mother. Other evidence including the testimony of several experts was available to Pinholster's counsel and could have been presented. Pinholster was facing death for his crime and his appointed attorneys could not spare the extra time to investigate backup mitigations – what would they have done for a lesser offense?

How can we fairly punish a man when we can't be sure every avenue of defense has been pursued? And even if we find a way to fairly represent those charged with crimes, what use is a trial if jurors will not listen to both sides of a case? A justice system is not just when efficiency is valued more highly than integrity.

The majority of Americans will never become aggressively involved in the legal profession. Those who do should have a commitment to investigating any possible means of convicting or protecting the accused individual; without this commitment, the adversarial system falls apart.

Even if your only involvement in the legal system is serving on a jury, remember how important your role is. Look at all of the evidence, even if doing so takes an extra day – years of someone's life will be affected by hours of your time.