You non-religious types must be feeling pretty stupid right about now. Because if you believe this AFP article, it appears that God Himself has reappeared in the world in human form — and it turns out that He is a statistics professor at Northwestern University.
US juries get verdict wrong in one of six cases: study
So much for US justice: juries get the verdict wrong in one out of six criminal cases and judges don’t do much better, a new study has found.
And when they make those mistakes, both judges and juries are far more likely to send an innocent person to jail than to let a guilty person go free, according to an upcoming study out of Northwestern University.
“Those are really shocking numbers,” said Jack Heinz, a law professor at Northwestern who reviewed the research of his colleague Bruce Spencer, a professor in the statistics department.
The shocking part to me is why we rely on the criminal justice system to settle factual disputes to begin with, when all the answers are already known by Northwestern statistics professor Bruce Spencer.
Also known as “God Himself.”
Think of the waste involved. In any given trial, at least 12 people (and usually two alternates) listen to evidence for days, and spend hours (often days) deliberating over a verdict. When they could have simply asked someone who knows the answer, with total, scientific certainty: Northwestern statistics professor Bruce Spencer.
Let’s review his “shocking” findings, as related by this completely unquestioning AFP article:
The study, which looked at 290 non-capital criminal cases in four major cities from 2000 to 2001, is the first to examine the accuracy of modern juries and judges in the United States.
It found that judges were mistaken in their verdicts in 12 percent of the cases while juries were wrong 17 percent of the time.
More troubling was that juries sent 25 percent of innocent people to jail while the innocent had a 37 percent chance of being wrongfully convicted by a judge.
And just how does some statistics professor sitting in his office know whether the people in these cases were truly guilty or innocent?
Spencer’s study does not examine why the mistakes were made or which cases ought to be overturned.
Instead, he determined the probability that a mistake was made by looking at how often judges disagreed with the jury’s verdict.
“If they disagree they can’t both be right,” he explained.
Spencer found an agreement rate of just 77 percent, which means a lot of mistakes were being made.
Oooookayyyy . . . I understand that if a judge disagrees with the jury’s verdict, the judge and jury can’t both be right. But just how, exactly, does this professor determine who was right, in order to come up with the “shocking” statistics mentioned above?
The unquestioning functionary who wrote this story seems to have no interest in exploring that question, or showing any of that vaunted journalistic skepticism we hear so much about. The conclusion fits the journalist’s preferred storyline. File it under “Too Good to Check.”
Don’t try to tell me that maybe the professor had some objective criteria to go on — like in each of the cases there were DNA results to show who did it. Even if that’s true, it merely shows that the sample is not reflective of criminal trials as a whole.
I haven’t seen the study itself, but I’m calling bullshit. There is, quite simply, no way that some statistics professor sitting in his office can know the true guilt or innocence of 290 criminal defendants. That’s why we have a system, pal — because there is no way for any one self-appointed individual to be the Sole Arbiter of who’s guilty and who’s not.
Unless, of course, Bruce Spencer really is God Himself, returned to Earth in human form. But if that’s really the case, then the End of the World is nigh — meaning we have a lot more to worry about than the accuracy of our criminal justice system.