The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

September 14, 2013

What do we think of jurors who know nothing of cases?

By Lynn Saternow
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---- — As I read the stories about the selection of jurors for the current Basilone murder trial, I couldn’t help but wonder about the judicial system.

People selected for juries usually are asked if they know any details of cases or have predetermined ideas. It always amazes me that even in some highly publicized cases we have potential jurors who say they have heard or read nothing about them.

OK, fine. These people either live in a cave or don’t socialize much. But are those the kind of people we really want on juries? How intelligent or how competent are they not to care to know about incidents that occur right in their area.

It is definitely scary sometimes the kind of people that are on juries. Some people can be easily swayed by good attorneys or actually by other people in the jury room.

As I once wrote, I was in the jury room deciding the defendant’s fate, while a woman juror was reading a book. I said, “What are you doing.” She replied, “I’ll just go along with whatever you decide.”

Yikes! Good choice, of course.

As has been said before, our judicial system isn’t perfect, but it’s the best in the world. Yet, unfortunately sometimes innocent people are convicted while bad people walk away free.

I can’t wait to see the outcome of the Basilone case.

• Speaking of walking away free, I often have questioned the amount of plea bargaining that goes on in our courts. Very few cases seemingly come to trial as plea bargaining results in “criminals” accepting at times lesser sentences or even probation just to plead guilty to more minor charges.

Since I don’t know all the details in these cases or the evidence involved I can’t say when good or bad decisions for plea bargains are being made.

I was shocked with District Attorney Bob Kochems’ announcement from the outset that he wouldn’t seek the death penalty for the pair accused in the Basilone case. I thought that might help make them plead to a lesser murder charge, but what do I know?

But when Kochems apologized last week to victims for making a plea deal concerning a home invasion and shooting of a resident, it made me wonder even more about how many times criminals get off with less time in prison than they deserve.

The story in Thursday’s Herald pointed out that he plea-bargained with a Youngstown man – Jessi Hudson – and dropped counts of attempted homicide and aggravated assault on police as well as 11 counts of aggravated assault. A woman was shot for no apparent reason in that invasion, but luckily lived.

I have often wondered how police felt about some of these plea bargains, especially when they drop charges of attacks on police who arrest violent people. If people know they can fight with police and still get away without being penalized for it, it has to put the lives of our safety forces in more jeopardy than need be.

The one charge that should never be dropped is assaulting a police officer. Just as any attack on a sports officials should never be reduced to a lesser charge.

If people have a disregard for authority it can only get worse if plea bargaining dismisses those charges.



The Herald’s Lynn Saternow writes this column each Saturday for The Opinion Page. He can be reached at lsaternow@sharonherald.com.