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To what extent is reasonable doubt an effective safeguard in the jury system? Essay

To what extent is reasonable doubt an effective safeguard in the jury system? In the play, Twelve Angry Men Reginald Rose depicts ‘reasonable doubt’ as an extremely effective defence in the jury system which leads to saving the accused from being sentenced. In the play the jurors are asked to determine whether the seventeen year old boy is ‘guilty’ of fatally stabbing his father beyond ‘reasonable doubt’ or not. Only Juror 8 plays a pivotal part in acquainting the other eleven jurors about ‘reasonable doubt’ and through negotiations they are able to bring it in all the testimonies and evidences presented by the prosecution. Eventually ‘reasonable doubt’ leads all the other eleven jurors to abandon all the doubtful proofs in favour of the boy and give the ‘not guilty’ decision. Throughout the play from the starting juror 8 is the only one who votes ‘not guilty’ as he says, ‘It’s not easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.’

This clearly tells us that he had gone through all the evidences and found them to be lacking whereas all the other eleven jurors had assumed that this was an ‘open and shut case’ without thinking of any other chances. This is obvious when he says towards the end of the play, ‘….we have a reasonable doubt, and this is a safeguard which has enormous value in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it’s sure.’ These words of juror 8 have a tremendous influence on the other jurors to vote unanimously ‘not guilty’ in favour of the boy. After very prolonged discussions and re-enactments the evidences given by the old man living downstairs and the woman across the alleyway who claimed to have seen the boy stabbing his father when an el train was passing by are considered as bizarre and doubtful. The old man’s claim was rejected because according to him it took only fifteen seconds for him to reach his front door from his bedroom. In the re- enactment, both jurors 2 and 8 showed that it was impossible for the old man to cover the distance from his bedroom to the front door in less than forty one seconds, which led to the expulsion of the old man’s evidence. The woman’s evidence was rejected because juror 9 pointed out the fact that as she had marks on her nose that clearly showed that she wore glasses which she didn’t wear at the hearing.

This led to the prosecution concealing the fact from the jury that the woman normally wore glasses thus making her testimony dubious. Both these incidents do not show that the witnesses were lying but do definitely put ‘reasonable doubt’ in the minds of all the jurors to consider the boy’s situation and give the ‘not guilty’ verdict. The murder weapon, the knife was greatly debated in the court. The exceptionality of the knife was making the boy appear to be guilty of committing the hideous crime of murdering his own father. In order to prove this juror 8 managed to purchase a similar type of knife from the boy’s neighbourhood shop showing that it was not that unique. Juror 8 tells the jury that he doesn’t want them to accept his hypothesis but it could be a possibility. Upon seeing the exactly similar knife the other jurors are told about the undependability of the prosecution and their evidence. This incident clearly shows that juror 8 just doesn’t want to prove the boy’s innocence but he wants to put a reasonable doubt about the boy’s guilt in the minds of all the other jurors.

The boy’s alibi that he was at the cinema watching a movie was greatly debated upon but here also juror 8 brings reasonable doubt by showing that it is understandable to forget such details as the movies name under stress. He does this by cross questioning juror 4 on similar questions. In conclusion, reasonable doubt is an effective safeguard in the jury system as the boy’s life is eventually saved in Twelve Angry Men. As Sir John Hawles’ The Englishman’s Right, put it, echoing the medieval theological tradition, “let the conscientious juryman “tremble,” lest he be “guilty of [the defendant’s] Murder.”

Word count: 714.

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