The judicial branch in Palau is exploring the option to move from bench trials to jury trials.

Associate Justice Robert J. Torres of the Supreme Court of Guam and Associate Justice Alexandro C. Castro of the Supreme Court of the Northern Mariana Islands were asked to present associated issues at the Palau 2nd Constitutional Convention concerning trial by jury in their jurisdictions. The five-day convention began on June 5.

The decision on whether the Palau judicial system will move to a jury trial would ultimately be an internal decision made by Palau’s judicial branch. On Guam juries hear all criminal cases and certain types of civil cases because the Organic Act of Guam incorporates certain amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the Bill of Rights.

Guam has a population of about 150 000 the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas about 60 000 and Palau about 20 000.

Torres said he and Castro did not want to advocate necessarily one way or the other. However Torres said “Justice Castro pointed out that when he was the attorney general of CNMI and they were doing their first-ever jury trial people said ‘Saipan is too small jury trials will never work.’ It’s been quite the opposite.

“Jury trials have proven to be very successful for the CNMI despite the smallness of the community. They’re still able to find jurors who are willing to sit and be impartial in a particular trial. In fact the critics were saying it’s never going to work in the CNMI it’s too close of a community too many people know each other and you’re never going to have a situation where jury trials will work. And in fact he [Castro] said he was able to obtain convictions on a number of cases while he was the attorney general using a jury trial. So I don’t think the smallness of the community alone dictates that you can’t have an impartial jury. There are people in any community that’ll have knowledge of events that go on. The question isn’t whether or not you have knowledge the question is whether or not you can be impartial and render a fair and free decision.”

Torres said nearly a million Americans serve on juries each year.

After researching the American Bar Association’s study on jury trials “Perceptions of the U.S. Justice System “ Torres said he was surprised to learn that most Americans believe juries do their job correctly.

“Evidence suggests that juries get it right almost all the time. The American people believe that the jury system works. A sampling of the American public believed by 78% to 17% that the jury system is the most fair way to determine the guilt or innocence of a person accused of a crime.”

Similarly a survey of federal judges concurred. Torres said 97% of the 594 federal judges surveyed said they agree with the jury verdicts most or all of the time.

Torres said “By an 8-1 ratio federal judges said that if they were on trial they would prefer to have their dispute decided by a jury rather than a judge.” MBJ