In an ideal world, the guilty are guilty and the innocent are not. But in real life, It’s not always that simple. What if you felt that you had no other choice than to take responsibility for a crime you didn’t commit?
According to allegations in a recent lawsuit, That’s exactly what happened to Ontario resident Anthony Hanemaayer several years ago. In 1989, Hanemaayer pleaded guilty to the assault of a teenaged girl and served over a year in prison; later, however, murderer Paul Bernardo confessed to the crime. Hanemaayer has since been exonerated.
Put aside for the moment the allegations of negligence, of improper concealment of evidence, and of mishandling of the trial. Put aside the fact that an innocent man served jail time for someone else’s act. There’s another factor here that isn’t being explored.
That element is us.
The criminal justice system exists to protect the people. Because the use of a jury gives a level of public accountability, there’s supposed to be an additional feeling of security. we’re expected to live our lives and trust that the system is working: people are kept safe, and wrongdoers are dealt with fairly. Yet apparently, that system is falling short?and it might not be the fault of the officials involved.
Regardless of evidence or incomplete investigations, Hanemaayer, despite his innocence, chose to plead guilty rather than face a jury of his fellow citizens.
What does it say about our confidence in the judicial system if an innocent accused feels the need to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit? What does it say about our belief in the honesty and acumen of our fellow citizens as jurors, if we can’t trust them to recognize the truth? It’s worth contemplating where we’ve arrived as a society when we can no longer count on the ideals that are supposed to give us security: truth, justice, and our fellow human beings.
A jury should provide an honest, layperson’s assessment of the facts. Unfortunately, however, It’s often difficult for jurors to focus on the facts if their prevailing attitude is the desire to be anywhere but the courtroom.
It’s true that jury duty can be a major disruption to one’s job, family life, and personal time. Yet there’s a quandary. Prosecutors are relying on us to convict the guilty, while those who have been wrongfully accused are relying on us to recognize their innocence. And mentally checking out will only hurt ourselves in the long run: because the justice system is integral to a peaceful society, contributing to its decline will affect our own futures.
Physical participation can be mandated, but active involvement is another story. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the choice is ours.