Shades of Gray
How often has some person of fame or notoriety been found not guilty of some heinous crime and everyone stands around and wonders, "How could that happen? Were the jurors on drugs?" Sometimes it just seems grossly unfair that someone who is very likely guilty as sin gets off scott free.
I think what a lot of people don't get is the whole "reasonable doubt" thing. This term is deliberately left vague by the law so that jurors—who are supposedly reasonable people—can decide for themselves exactly what reasonable doubt is.
Let's take the Michael Jackson case, for example. I wasn't a juror, but from what little I saw and heard on the news about the case, I had reasonable doubt that he is a child molester. Is he weird? You bet, he's very odd, and I think he might have done it. But that's not the standard we use to find a person guilty and to take away his right to life, liberty, and whatever bizarre pursuits make him happy. The fact is that I think that the accuser's family is seedy, and I think it's entirely possible that they were trying to use the boy's relationship to Michael Jackson to extort the famous star for lots of money. Therefore if I were on the jury, I would have likely gone with not guilty as well.
In the OJ case, I feel differently. From what I saw and heard on the news, I don't have a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of murdering his wife. The jury obviously felt differently. Maybe they saw and heard stuff that I didn't. Maybe I saw and heard stuff that they didn't, which is a problem that should be addressed. But as cold and selfish as it sounds, I would much rather OJ, who is likely a cold-blooded killer, go free than for there to be a chance that I get wrongly convicted of murder because the standards of conviction have been lowered.
Perhaps another problem is that there are no shades of gray in criminal case verdicts. The person is either guilty or not guilty. There is no "probably guilty" or "maybe a little guilty." Is this a problem that could be addressed?
Maybe instead of having to render one of only two choices, jurors can vote on how guilty a defendant is on a scale from one to ten. OJ? Nine. Michael Jackson? Six. When the trial is over, you average the verdicts and base the penalties on how high the verdict is and the crime committed. A ten for first degree murder will get you locked up for life with no chance of parole. A five will get you locked up for a few years. A two will just get you a stiff fine. Verdicts would be cumulative, of course, so if you get convicted with a seven, then you get out and get convicted again with a three, it counts as a ten and you get put away for life. Maybe after a period of time, old verdicts lose some points to account for youthful indiscretions. Maybe verdicts should even be published on the Internet so you can find out how likely it is that your new next door neighbor is a child molester. "Ew, a six? Well, I won't keep my kids locked inside the house, but they sure as hell won't be going to any sleepovers!"