I admit that I have not been following the Michael Jackson case at all closely; however, I can’t help listening to all the chatter about it, and one particular tidbit has really caught my interest. “The jurors,” people say, “knew he did it, but there simply wasn’t enough hard evidence to convict him.”
Regardless of whether this is true or not in this particular case, it brings an interesting question to mind. Are there any circumstances in which one would be justified in doing the opposite–that is, convicting on gut feelings rather than hard evidence?
Yes, I know, jurors are not at all supposed to do anything of that nature–they’re supposed to be, as closely as possible, impartial agents of the law, weighing the evidence dispassionately and making a decision based on that evidence. And yet I’m sure there have been court cases in which X was convicted not because of any cold, hard evidence, but because X was an all-around scuzzball, and the court of public opinion had already condemned him/her.
So what about it? You’re a juror, and Y is on trial for, let us say, a particularly brutal crime. Y, you and all the other jurors agree, is bad news. You just have a very bad feeling about Y, and you can feel it in your bones that if you let Y go free, Y will go on committing this particularly heinous crime again and again. Yet there is nothing in the way of definite proof–maybe just vague circumstantial evidence–connecting Y to this crime. Do you do your job as a juror and acquit Y, or do you listen to your gut feeling and convict Y?
Or what about this case: very similar circumstances, and Z is accused of a comparably terrible crime. Nothing as damning as DNA evidence connecting Z to the crime, but maybe something nearly as bad. All the signs point to Z having committed this crime–and yet Z fairly radiates innocence. “I didn’t do it,” says Z, “this is all a terrible mistake,” and you and the other jurors can’t help believing in this person, despite all the evidence against him/her. “We don’t want to convict Z,” you and all the other jurors agree, “because we just have this feeling that Z is innocent. And yet, all this evidence…!” Do you follow your gut feeling and cut Z a break, or do you do your job as a juror and convict Z?