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SIMPSON-INSPIRED JUDICIAL REFORMS WILT IN LEGISLATURE.

Byline: Mark Katches Daily News Sacramento Bureau

The verdict in the O.J. Simpson case spawned more than a dozen bills aimed at fixing a criminal justice system that polls showed the public believes is broken.

Despite the tough rhetoric, however, most of the high-profile reform ideas - ranging from banning cameras in the courtroom to authorizing nonunanimous jury verdicts - have withered or died in the Legislature in the seven months since Simpson was acquitted.

Other far-flung legislative proposals - one that would ban Armani suits worn by attorneys in court and another that would prohibit defense attorneys from urging jurors to send a political message to law enforcement - never got past the concept stage.

The final verdict? It appears the system is headed for a slap on the wrist instead of an overhaul.

``I think people have had time to reflect on this case and put it in proper perspective,'' said Simpson attorney Robert Shapiro. ``They understand it's not typical of cases in America, and that reforming a system based on one case is not appropriate.''

Advocates for reform blame the lack of progress on internal splits deep inside each major party, reluctance to overhaul an institution that has survived intact for more than 200 years, and strong lobbying efforts by attorney groups and civil libertarians.

But polls during the Simpson trial and after showed that there is public discontent with the system, and a sense among many that somehow the verdict was wrong.

Two Field Polls during the trial showed strong support for nonunanimous verdicts and extraordinarily low confidence in the justice system.

In May 1995, midway through the prosecution's case, 34 percent of respondents said the Simpson case had lowered their opinion of the justice system.

In September, less than a month before the verdicts, 71 percent said they favored at least a 10-2 verdict in cases that did not involve the death penalty.

After the trial a majority of the public disagreed with the verdict, according to a USA Today/CNN/ Gallup Poll taken the day of the verdict.

Many people later said they assumed the brevity of the deliberations pointed to a case of ``jury nullification,'' where jurors disregard the facts of a case and acquit a defendant they think is guilty because they disagree morally with the law or with the government trying to impose it.

``The average guy on the street understands instinctively it's not working,'' said state Sen. Ross Johnson, R-Irvine. ``It's not producing the result that he wants to see or she wants to see. But I'm pretty skeptical that anything is going to happen.''

As a result of the internal party rifts, Republican bills are being killed in Republican-dominated committees in the Assembly, and Democratic bills are floundering in Senate committees controlled by Democrats.

``I don't believe you change the judicial system with an ax,'' said Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle.

Pringle, a conservative Republican, illustrates the divisions in his own party. He opposes the concept of nonunanimous verdicts and bans on cameras in the court - two issues Republican Gov. Pete Wilson has endorsed.

``It's not happening because you have a Legislature that's not acting,'' said Wilson spokesman Jesus Arredondo.

Even with the string of defeats, the ideas keep coming. A blue-ribbon panel of the state's Judicial Council is expected to release a series of recommendations to the Legislature later this month.

A draft of the recommendations released in April included another call for nonunanimous verdicts and limits to peremptory challenges to provide for a better cross-section on juries. It also would make jury service mandatory and pay jurors up to $40 a day instead of $5 for their time.

``We're not asking to tear down the entire system because it doesn't need it,'' said Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Gerald Chaleff, who served on the blue-ribbon panel. ``It really doesn't need it.''

Others on the 26-member task force say that even small, incremental steps could have a significant impact.

``There is no question there has to be substantial change in the jury system, and it begins with who is serving as jurors,'' said District Attorney Gil Garcetti, a member of the panel.

``So many people simply don't make themselves available to serve,'' Garcetti said. ``People now ignore their summons and nothing happens. There will be contempt citations.''

Garcetti, a recent convert to the concept of nonunanimous verdicts, said he thinks the idea may eventually take hold, but not this year.

``It may carry more weight coming from the blue ribbon committee, but I'm still not going to vote for it,'' said state Sen. Milton Marks, D-San Rafael, the influential chairman of the Senate Criminal Procedure Committee.

Victims rights groups say they are frustrated by the lack of action, especially since polls indicate the public's faith in the judicial system has diminished.

``People are scared to death to touch the jury system, and I don't know why,'' said Kelly Rudiger, executive director of the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau. ``I think it is in shambles and the public doesn't trust it.''

The California District Attorneys Association wants to see nonunanimous jury verdicts because it leads to higher conviction rates, but even some of the most conservative legislators are reluctant to support the change.

Johnson, the Irvine Republican, has joined Democrats who refuse to back calls for nonunanimous juries, citing his own experience on a trial where he was the lone holdout for acquittal before persuading five others to join him in a hung jury.

An Assembly bill requiring 10-2 verdicts has been dying a slow death in a Republican-held committee since last year. A Senate bill calling for 11-1 verdicts was pulled by its author, Sen. Charles Calderon, D-Montebello.

Calderon, an attorney, is one of the only Democrats in the Legislature who supports a change in the way jurors reach verdicts. But he said he withdrew his bill when he realized it was headed for certain defeat in the Democratic-controlled Senate Criminal Procedure Committee.

The same committee killed a bill last month by Sen. Quentin Kopp, I-South San Francisco, that would change not-guilty verdicts to ``not proven.''

``We need reform, but we're not going to get it,'' Kopp said.

Outside the halls of the Capitol, reform efforts also have met with resistance. A petition drive to place an initiative on the ballot calling for 10-2 verdicts gathered only 100,000 of the 770,000 signatures needed to qualify.

Organizers blamed the failure on inadequate funding and say they will try again in 1998.

Senate President Bill Lockyer, D-Hayward, said he believes that nonunanimous jury verdicts lost its steam when the Simpson case was decided in three hours.

``If it were a split jury, perhaps there would be some greater impetus for change,'' he said.

Lockyer published a Senate policy briefing this year that outlined ideas he expected to be introduced as bills, including the ban on ``flamboyant'' attire worn by attorneys prompted by an editorial in a legal newspaper suggesting Armani clothing be outlawed.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 6, 1996
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