Tuesday, December 14, 2004


The Scott Peterson trial's all over bar the formalities of sentencing.

As an outsider, three things about this strike me as odd to varying degrees:

1) It's been a media-circus case second only to O.J. Simpson's trial ever since Laci Peterson first disappeared. It rings all the public-interest bells: attractive, white, pregnant wife disappears on Christmas Eve; shifty husband makes unconvincing TV appeals for information; body found at Easter; guess whodunit? But the media-friendly aspects aside, it's just another grubby domestic-violence murder. According to the FBI's Crime in the US statistics, in 2002 (the year Laci Peterson disappeared) there were 16,204 murders in the US; what happened to reporting on the rest?

2) If Peterson's sentenced to death as the jury has recommended (in the US system, the jury gets to recommend the sentence from the allowable options, and it's unusual for the judge to overrule the recommendation) reports suggest he'll be waiting on Death Row for up to 20 years. 20 years? That's pretty much a life sentence on its own; why not give up pretending that the system works?

3) And this bothers me most of all: not only are jury members here named, but they gave a press conference at which they talked about their feelings about the case and about their deliberations. Commentators on Larry King Live suggested that this was a good decision:

"It's very smart of a jury to do this. Because if they don't do this, they're going to be hounded at home. Everybody in the press corps knows who those jurors are, they know where they live, they know their addresses, phone numbers." (transcript)


Things are way different here to in the UK. In the British system your identity as a juror is protected; your name is not published, you're not interviewed, and you don't become a media figure — voluntarily or not — simply because you were randomly chosen to do your civic duty. And what happens behind the jury room doors is sacrosanct. The US system just seems wrong: discussing the deliberations seems to me to open up possibilities either for declaring a mistrial or at least an appeal tightly tailored to address the previous juror's comments.