This nasty little case combined with a recently read Tweet to set me pondering about jury nullification. I didn’t have a clue what that meant until yesterday, so for those as legally unschooled as me, I shall expound: it’s when a juror delivers a Not Guilty verdict because he or she thinks the law that the defendant has broken is unjust. Noble examples include people who helped slaves escape in the pre-emancipation American South – even though they admitted doing it in court under oath, jurors acquitted them and off they trotted. Good work, jurors.
However, as the infallible Wikipedia mentioned during my half-arsed research, it does enable people to get away with violence against socially unpopular minorities. Up till now I’ve argued against substituting the name of any given minority for ‘cyclist’ when reading biased press, but today I’m struggling to see what else is going on there.
This case merely happens to be the worst I’ve read about, but there’s been plenty more where I firmly believe many among the jury have sat and remembered every time they’ve had a near miss because they were texting, eating, drinking, reading an e-book or whatever, and furthermore a minority of jurors will be remembering the times they’ve tailgated or punishment passed a cyclist after losing their rag. Both types will consciously or unconsciously be reaching for nullification because ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ and all that. It’s made it almost impossible for a charge of Dangerous Driving to stick, so it gets bumped down to Careless and the judge’s teeth are pulled.
I’ve had problems with the jury system for a while. On first glance it seems a poor system; last time I looked it took beefy exam results to so much as set foot in a Law faculty as a student, then there’s years of training and decades of experience before you can rise to become a judge, but the final arbiter is fifteen people whose selection criteria actually includes ‘not being vital at their place of work’. I’m eligible for duty, I hasten to add. Simple maths also leads to the inevitable conclusion that by sheer force of numbers, some juries will be dominated by people with a specific bias for or against the sociopolitical group of the defendant, and this is going to be pretty hard to detect. The Dutch, peskily civilised people that they are, have that three-judge system which I see fewer flaws in.
In light of this, and my inability to comprehend how a careless and dangerous can possibly be separate qualities when discussing control of a fatal hazard like a car at 20+mph, I hereby declare the distinction in offences to be silly, and reckon there should only be a careless driving offence, which keeps the upper sentencing limit of dangerous.