Richard G. Epstein
RHETORIC IN LOCAL
Governor Charges that Democratic
Parameters Would "Coddle" Criminals
SVU Simulation Indicates that Republican Parameters Would Result in More Convictions
Special to the Sentinel-Observer
Legal Affairs Editor
Governor Wilson charged today that proposed Democratic parameters for the state's JURIST program would coddle criminals and make it difficult to obtain convictions. He cited a SVU computer simulation that shows that the Republican parameters would lead to more convictions and longer prison sentences than the proposed Democratic revisions.
In 2016 the state legislature in Sacramento voted to replace the ailing jury system with a computer-based system called JURIST. JURIST gathers information submitted by the defense and the prosecution and arrives at a decision based upon the evidence that is submitted. The JURIST system was designed to process criminal cases and has not been used in civil cases.
The JURIST system was activated in March 2021 after elections were held in November 2020 to set the JURIST system "parameters". The parameters represent the subjective element in JURIST decisions. For example, some jurist parameters can be set to favor the defense, placing a heavier burden of proof upon the prosecution. Elections to set the parameters are held every four years with the major political parties presenting a slate of parameters that they would like to institute.
This year the Republican and Democratic parties formulated their state-wide parameter slates at conventions that were held in March. Since then, Republican and Democratic leaders have been campaigning vigorously for their respective slates.
The Democratic parameters represent a radical departure, most legal experts agree, from the current Republican parameters that were elected in 2024. According to Susan Tinner of the Silicon Valley University School of Law, "the Democratic parameters reflect a concern that the legal system has swung too far in favor of the prosecution at the expense of the defense. We saw in the Harrelson case that police are capable of manufacturing evidence and the Republican parameters did not take that possibility into account. As a result, an innocent man, Vince Harrelson, was convicted of a rape that he did not commit."
Governor Wilson, in his remarks at a JURIST parameters rally at the Silicon Valley Mall, dismissed Professor Tinner's concerns. The Governor alleged that the Harrelson case was an anomaly that the new Republican parameters would handle correctly. "The danger behind the Democratic parameters," the governor said, "is that they make the exceptional case the rule. The Harrelson case was exceptional and we cannot evaluate every case with the presumption that police have tampered with the evidence."
Governor Wilson credited the continuing fall in crime in some parts of the state to the tough Republican parameters that have been in place since the original slate of Republican parameters was elected in 2020. "Criminals know that they cannot get away with manipulating the justice system to their advantage. The new Democratic parameters would allow a clever defense attorney to manipulate JURIST in such a way that a conviction would be hard to obtain."
Silicon Valley University Law Professor and Republican political consultant, Max Henderson, used a computer simulation to compare the Republican and Democratic JURIST parameters with respect to ten recent criminal cases. "These ten cases all led to convictions under the Republican parameters," Henderson explained in a teleview conversation. "The Democratic parameters yielded three acquittals, and my personal opinion is that all ten of the defendants were guilty. Thus, there is a difference between the Republican parameters, which assure a higher conviction rate, and the Democratic parameters, which tend to coddle criminals, as the governor stated in his remarks at the mall this afternoon."
California was the first state to replace traditional juries with computer-based systems. This was made possible by the thirtieth amendment to the US Constitution, which removed the requirement that citizens must be tried by a jury of their peers. The amendment allows for justice to be applied in all criminal cases by "people or systems that are judged as being just and fair by the legislative processes that apply in a given state." Until this year, when New York and Arizona voted to abandon the traditional jury system in favor of computer-based systems, California was the only state that had done so.
A recent Gallup poll shows that 65% of the citizens in the US believe that the California JURIST system is more fair than a traditional jury. Yet, even though the thirtieth amendment was passed by Congress and by nearly all state legislatures, only three states have actually bitten the bullet, adopting a computer-based criminal justice system. Legislators have found the implementation of this concept much more difficult than they had anticipated.
Yet, the California JURIST system has won much praise in legal circles and even among defense attorneys. The public feels that the JURIST program is a fair and impartial arbiter of information that many human juries just cannot handle without emotion and bias. One defense attorney, asking to remain anonymous, stated that the JURIST system was far superior to the traditional jury because "our work as defense attorneys has deteriorated over the last several decades to the point where it is a form of witchcraft that has everything to do with human prejudice and emotion and little to do with truth and justice." Another defense attorney stated that "I have not found any deficiency in the manner in which the JURIST system analyzes evidence and data."
In California, evidence is presented in court before a panel of three judges. The JURIST system collects that evidence analyzes it on a purely factual basis. At the end of the trial the JURIST system submits its verdict and, if there is a conviction, a recommended sentence to the panel of judges. The judges can then either accept or reject the JURIST findings.
"With JURIST," explains famous Wyoming defense attorney Ritt Ryder, "the sentences are eminently fair. There is no bias in the sentencing based upon race or economic status. In all honesty, I can't get away with some of my favorite tricks in a JURIST courtroom."
The judicial panels in California that have presided over JURIST cases have yet to over-turn a single JURIST decision. One judge stated that JURIST "was like an ideal jury, a jury of people whose only agenda is to see that justice is done."
Critics of JURIST state that it favors the prosecution. US Senator Brenda Nelson (D-CA) opposes the JURIST system but is supporting the Democratic parameters under the circumstances. She had this to say in a speech delivered on the Senate floor: "When a jury deliberates on the fate of another human being, it is a human reality. You are making a decision regarding the fate of another human being. That personal element really places a great burden upon the prosecution to prove guilt beyond any shadow of a doubt. That personal element is gone now. I think the proposed Democratic parameters will correct this imbalance somewhat, but I still favor the traditional jury system."
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