So they convicted Martha Stewart. That’s a shame. The case should never have been brought. We are supposed to believe that a woman who is worth hundreds of millions risked everything to avoid fifty grand in stock losses. It’s simply unbelievable, and it begs the question of what fiduciary duty she had to Imclone shareholders (none). The judge earlier threw out the serious fraud charge, so Stewart was convicted mainly of making false statements to investigators when she was not under oath.
The prosecutors got lucky here. They had a weak case, were essentially making up law, and the jury bought it. I hope that other prosecutors won’t be emboldened to engage in more of these persecutions.
One of the likely problems here was the quality of the jurors. What kind of person was so ignorant that he didn’t already know a lot about this highly publicized case before he was called? This is a systematic problem. It’s difficult to find intelligent people who are willing to put their lives on hold during what’s likely to be a long trial.
I was once called for jury duty and assigned to a notorious criminal case for which everyone expected a lengthy trial. I can tell you that once the prospective jurors learned which case they were on, almost every one of them wanted to be excused. To my relief, I was excused (after waiting two days to be interviewed) because I had a strong opinion about the case. The prospective jurors who had not been excused by the time I left did not strike me as the kinds of people I would want to have on my jury if I were a defendant.
Yes, jury service is important, but how many able people are willing to take a several-week forced vacation in exchange for fifteen dollars a day? We effectively force jurors to subsidize our legal system, and the more a juror’s time is worth the more he pays to serve. Perhaps it would be better to pay jurors an amount that comes closer to compensating them for their time — if they are intelligent people, maybe $200 a day as a start. It would be expensive, and there are many individuals for whom such an amount wouldn’t be nearly enough, but it might improve the quality of jury decisions, particularly in complex and white-collar cases.
There is no way, under the current system, for someone like Martha Stewart to be tried by a jury of her peers. Would such a jury, or at least a jury of people who are somewhat sophisticated about business and financial matters, have convicted her? I doubt it. And even if they might have done so, she still deserved better than to have the facts of her case evaluated by people who probably lack significant experience in these areas.