Juries Can Handle the Truth
Newton N. Minow and Fred H. Cate. Newton N. Minow is a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Fred H. Cate is a law professor ., The Christian Science Monitor
JUDGE Lance Ito is to be congratulated. Despite requests from attorneys on both sides of the O. J. Simpson case, Judge Ito has refused to withhold relevant information from the jury.
Defense attorneys had asked Judge Ito to prohibit prosecutors from telling the jury about 62 acts of alleged spousal abuse by Mr. Simpson. Even though that evidence includes police records about the defendant's 1989 arrest and conviction for allegedly beating his wife, and his letters apologizing to her, de-fense attorneys argued that it would prejudice the jury.
Prosecutors had petitioned to exclude evidence of alleged racial bias on the part of detective Mark Fuhrman, the officer who discovered the now-famous bloody glove. Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden argued that presenting Mr. Fuhrman's alleged slur about African Americans will "blind the jury to the truth."
Judge Ito wisely refused to go along. He substantially rejected all efforts to keep important information from the jury, despite the fact that keeping the jury in the dark seemed to be the only point on which both prosecution and defense attorneys agreed.
The O. J. Simpson case is an example of how both prosecution and defense attorneys work to deny relevant information to juries. For example, many juries are not told about defendants' past criminal convictions. Every day, jurors are denied essential information that would help them to carry out their constitutional obligation to do justice.
Why do attorneys and judges deny jurors the facts necessary to make informed decisions? The reason is not that the information is irrelevant; it is thought to be too relevant. In 1948, Associate Justice Robert Jackson wrote for the Supreme Court that evidence about defendants' character, including prior convictions, is "not rejected because character is irrelevant; on the contrary, it is said to weigh too much with the jury . …