Liberia’s Jury System: A Matter for Serious Constitutional Discussion

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The Judge of Criminal Court B of Montserrado County, Her Honor Nancy F. Sammy, has issued a most disturbing revelation that should immediately grab the attention of the Chief Justice of Liberia, His Honor Francis Kporkor, and the entire Supreme Court Bench.

Judge Sammy, in her remarks opening her court last Monday, said court officers were in the habit of "demanding" money from individuals in order for those persons to serve on jury panels.

But our Judicial Correspondent, Abednego Davis, reminded court
officers that jury service is "a civil duty that enables a citizen to attend a court trial and help a judge to determine who is guilty or innocent."

Judge Sammy underscored her warning by insisting that "Court officers have been demanding and receiving payments from individuals in order to place them on the jury."

"This practice must be discontinued," she demanded," because anybody or any court personnel who engages in this unwholesome behavior will face the wrath of the court."

Turning to the empanelled jury for this session of her court, Judge Sammy gave them this patriotic juridical charge: "It is in accordance with our Constitution and Statue that you have been summoned from the various districts of Montserrado County to be with us in this term of court.  Your being with us is to perform a civil duty for our beloved country."

The erudite and faithful judge further explained to the jurors,
"[This] means that you will be with us for the next 42 days to perform your civil duty with impartiality, so as to render a true verdict in each case, predicated upon the evidence and the controlling law.

"Do not come to perform this duty with a mindset to render verdicts that are contrary to the evidence and the applicable laws before you for reward or hope," she added, warning that such jurors do so at their "own peril."

In this editorial, we have quoted extensively from Reporter Davis' article in order to highlight for the benefit of the public and the Supreme Court bench Judge Sammy's grave concern about jury tampering and where it begins–right in the court itself, with the involvement of the very court officers who should be guardians of judicial equity and rectitude (integrity). This vile, despicable habit of jury tampering seems to have become a permanent fixture in Liberian jurisprudence.  It has made it next to impossible for the government to win any case in court, for some of the vilest personalities in our society accused of blatant corruption have for this identical reason, gone scot free because they had a lot of money to pay the jurors.

The ink had hardly dried on Judge Sammy's written remarks when we published three days later a story revealing that "jury tampering" was overshadowing the murder trial of Jefferson Dahn, the defendant accused of allegedly stabbing to death Ms. Antoinette Nettie Peters, on January 3, 2013.

Judicial Correspondent Davis reported that two of the jurors in the case, Nathan Chea and Rachael Kun Suah, were at different times seen in conversation with murder defendant Jefferson Dahn's family members.

Accordingly, Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court A in which the trial is being held, has removed the two suspected jurors from the case, according to Correspondent Davis.

Judge Dixon must be commended for this bold move to cleanse the jury of suspicious elements and we pray that this decisive action on his part will serve a warning and a deterrent to this jury and all other juries.

The overriding question with which the three branches of the Liberian government and the people of the country themselves must wrestle is whether or not the jury system has served its usefulness in Liberian jurisprudence.  In a country riddled with poverty and corruption, it has become increasingly clear that people's peers cannot be trusted in exercising impartial and trustworthy judgment in judicial matters.

There are just too many instances of jury tampering, involving not simply court officers but lawyers, too, as well as other key officials of court.

Do we, or do we not need a referendum on the efficacy of the jury system in Liberia?  This, it seems to us, is a matter for serious constitutional discussion.

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