The Democracy Difference: U.S. Has Jury Trials; Europe Does Not

By Dick Morris on November 26, 2021

The two recent jury decisions dominating the news: The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse and the conviction of the Arbery killers, underscore the importance of juries in our justice system. Plus, they call attention to the fact that most European countries, except for Britain, do not use juries in criminal matters.

The difference in the use of juries is key to understanding the merits of the American system of justice and the flaws in the European model. Americans trust a jury of their peers to make vital decisions about criminal justice. But Europeans, apart from those in the UK, place no such trust in their peers and, instead vest the power to determine guilt or innocence in their judges who are, in turn, tightly bound by very specific laws setting policy in almost every imaginable circumstance.

We use juries. They use appointed judges and elected politicians to mete out justice.

For those who would hold Europe up as an example of well-run societies, we need only to cite the differences in the use of juries.

Europe follows the legal system established by Napoleon where the judge applies the law, assesses who is telling the truth, renders a verdict and imposes sentence. There is almost a merger between the roles of prosecutor and magistrate. The Continent has no faith in ordinary citizens to make these decisions.

The genius of the American system, which dates to the early days of common law in Britain, is that it rests on the fundamental principle of trust in ordinary people.

Amid the virtual civil war raging today throughout our country, many held their breaths as these two cases neared verdicts. Would irrational “woke” hatred of conservative, law abiding citizens and fear of a backlash from the mob lead the Rittenhouse jury to find him guilty? Would the backlash against anti-white racism and criminal justice reforms that are pro-criminal lead to excusing yet another murder of an innocent black man at the hands of a white mob?

Nope. Justice prevailed in both cases.

And, at the same time, we witnessed, all too graphically, the foibles of granting judges and legislators too broad a mandate in handling criminal prosecutions. The decision to let Darryl Brooks out on $1,000 bail after he ran over the mother of his child was an obscenity. As was the soft-on-crime legislation that enabled this ridiculous bail.

These travesties should serve as object lessons in how elected and appointed elites can lack sufficient common sense to do justice, something our juries do quite well. No jury would ever have let Brooks out on such bail.

On Thanksgiving weekend, let’s be grateful for the jury system that works so well and does so much to preserve our rights on the one hand and promote social cohesion on the other.

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