Trial by a Jury of One's Peers
The framers of the American constitution felt it was vital to ensure that every person was given a fair trial, and so they devised the trial by a jury of one's peers. This, it was believed, would guarantee justice and a fair trial.
African Americans, of course, have long known that it does no such thing given a society in which bigotry and racism makes a jury assume people of certain races are more likely to be criminally active than people of other races, or where prejudice leads people to judge people of one race more harshly than they would people of another race, and have more sympathy for people of their own race than they would people of a different race.
No doubt, Latinos also face the same difficulty. And now we have evidence that Muslims, too, are facing discrimination by juries that calls into question whether an American Muslim can receive justice and fairness at the hands of a jury by their peers. Of course, many American Muslims have felt since 9-11 that it was impossible for a Muslim man, particularly a Muslim Arab or Pakistani man, to get a fair trial because of Islamophobic juries. With reports of almost 46% of the population saying they have a negative opinion of Islam, these fears do not seem faretched. The proceedings at the trial of a Lodi, CA man accused, and convicted, of providing material support to terrorits have gone a step further, proving that such fear were indeed justified.
The trial took a disturbing turn today as one of the jurors filed an affadavit that she was coerced into going along with a verdict she did not agree with, and defense attorneys are asking for a retrial.
The juror, Arcelia Lopez, cited several issues with the trial:
- bigoted statments by the foreman, such as, "If you put them in the same costume then they all look alike."
- An apparent predetermination of guilt. She complained that near the beginning of the trial the foreman "gestured as if he was tying a rope around his neck" and said, 'Hang him.' Lopez said the gesture was repeated throughout the trial and that she believed it was a reference to Hayat." (the defendant)
- an attempt by juror's to find out what a juror who had been dismissed for speaking to the newspapers said (jurors are not allowed to consider information not presented at the trial, there are specific rules stating that they are not supposed to read newspaper accounts of their trial, but this jury purposefully looked for the dismissed juror's statements in different newspapers.)
- different forms of pressure on her
- a long letter from one of the other jurors in which she complained that her health was sufferring due to the long deliberations and that she was going to have to quit the jury if the impasse was not resolved.
- a note sent by the foreman complaining that one juror "does not seem to fully comprehend the deliberation process." Lopez said this was a reference to her belief that Hayat was innocent, and that she wasn't aware of it until the judge told them to continue in their deliberations.
- personal attacks by the foreman on her, in which he "attacked me repeatedly as someone who couldn't process the information and who just couldn't see that (Hayat) was guilty because he thought I didn't have the mental capacity to understand."
All of these add up to a pretty clear indication that Hayat did not get a fair trial.
Given the fact that some of the evidence provided is questionable -- the main witness was paid to collect evidence against Hayat and to testify against him; at least some of the material support was in the form of wire transfers between said witness, Hayat and his uncle, suggesting perhaps entrapment; the confessions of Hayat and his father, neither of whom speak good English were videotaped while neither had access to a lawyer, some of their "statements" were, according to their lawyer, simply echoing a question they didn't understand -- it makes you wonder -- was Hayat lead into a situation and then unable to get a fair trial by his jury?
I don't know if Hayat is guilty or not, but whether he is or not, he deserves a fair trial. But, I have to admit, just writing down this analysis is scary. I know some people will read these musings and think I'm soft on terrorism, that I'm hoping for criminals to get free. Of course, neither is true, but there is the niggling worry -- if you stand up for someone who has been accused, will you be seen as guilty by association? Will you be seen as sympathetic to terrorists?
It is truly sad that American Muslims -- or African Americans or Latinos --have to live under such shadows of fear.