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Posted: September 19, 2011

Re-thinking the court of public opinion: Part 1

Would you trust your fate to the whims of 5 million people?

Thomas Frey

American TV personality Ryan Seacrest has a grim look on his face as he walks briskly across the stage. Turning to the camera, he pauses briefly before saying, "You have heard the arguments, listened to the experts, and seen the photos. But now it is up to you to decide the fate of Mr. Howard Cullens."

On the lower part of the television screen a pair of voting numbers are listed, one to call for "guilty," and the other to select "innocent."

Mr. Seacrest continues, "For the good people of America, the decision you make here tonight will determine not only the outcome of this trial, but who we are as a people, as a society, and as a country. Do we have the resolve to make the hard choices, and more importantly, do we have the determination to make the right decision?"

People were drawn to this show because, as a trusted and impartial host, Ryan Seacrest adds just the right amount of charm and charisma to attract fair and objective people to judge his cases.

Concluding the broadcast, he ends with, "Tune in tomorrow morning on "American Courtroom," and we will announce how the country voted in this trial, and whether Mr. Howard Cullens will remain a free man, or one who spends the rest of his life in prison."

Crowdsourcing the Decision

Would you trust your own fate to the collective whims of 50,000 "average people?" How about 5 million? Would the combined weight of 5 million people voting "yes" or "no" give you more or less confidence in a justice system? If a city, county, or country decided to crowdsource its jury decisions, what things would have to change?

As with all new ideas, it is be very easy to create a system like this that fails. Turning the courtroom into a primetime reality TV show may very likely be one of those recipes for disaster.

However, somewhere in the groundswell of ideas needed to make a system like this work is a repeatable formula that can perform well, with the outcome being a truer reflection of the will of the people.

Thinking through the options, a few of the necessary checks and balances might be:

1. A monitoring system to assure people who vote have watched the entire proceedings
2. A brief questionnaire to prove they understand key components of the trial
3. Some sort of feedback loop to enable virtual jurors to ask questions and post comments along the way

Some of the reasons why this may be a better approach include:

• It reduces the chances for someone to game-the-system. Orchestrating court battles has become a fine art growing dramatically in sophistication over the past decade
• Jurors become a self-selected group who by their size and nature add far more information to a trial
• Jurors will not be intimidated by the accused
• The self-regulatory nature of the "will of the people" is less prone to be influenced by outsiders than the current "will of the system"
• In the end, it should be a fairer system that is less adversarial, less expensive, resulting in fewer appeals

Stacking the Deck

The U.S. Constitution only mentioned three federal crimes by its citizens: treason, piracy and counterfeiting. According to a 2008 study by retired Louisiana State University law professor John Baker, the number of federal laws now exceeds 4,500.

Being tough on crime is a persona that voters are naturally attracted to. When someone looks you straight in the eye and says, "I'm here to protect you," there is an instant bond that forms between the protector and the protectee.

As a result, many politicians have become protectionist zealots passing countless new laws to appease their constituents while, at the same time, micro-managing more and more freedoms out of our lives.
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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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Readers Respond

Brilliant! .....as usual. By Robert White on 2011 09 19
excellent article By John Wray on 2011 09 19

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