Do you trust your fellow citizens?

I have elitist tendencies. For example, I’m not completely satisfied with democracy in the United States. Too many Americans either don’t pay attention to politics or they seem to be easily manipulated by campaign rhetoric. But all of the alternatives are worse.

Nor am I completely satisfied with the jury system in the United States. The one time I served on a jury, I witnessed two very intelligent lawyers try to convince a jury that their story was correct and the other’s story was false. In this case, the defendant was guilty (in my mind and according to the jury), so the defense attorney used all of his skill to attempt to confuse us enough that we had a  “reasonable doubt.” Fortunately, we were not easily confused. But what if the evidence had been less clear, if the defense attorney had been more persuasive, and . . . if the jury failed to use critical thinking skills? But, again, all of the alternatives are worse.

So I was surprised to learn that Georgia will begin its first ever jury trial on Nov. 10. A 12-person jury will decide an aggravated homicide case.

“Why begin jury trials now?” According to my favorite website for multimedia news of the Caucasus——jury trials will bolster Georgians’ faith in the legal system. “Currently, many Georgians view the courts as an adjunct of executive authority. In addition, few Georgians expect to receive a fair trial if they are ever hauled before a court, given that the conviction rate runs at 99 percent.” ( Yes, indeed, if I ever get into legal trouble in Georgia, I’ll take my chances with a jury trial!

But if I was a woman, and the crime was rape, then I’m not sure whether I’d prefer a judge or a jury. Why? Because of Georgia’s patriarchal culture. A gender studies expert said: “Women often are blamed for instigating such crimes by acting provocatively. This happens elsewhere, but in places like Georgia the ‘she-should-have-known-better attitude’ is more prevalent than in the West.”

I have no doubt that talking about a traumatic rape experience before a group of possibly prejudiced, possibly insensitive jurors could be terrible, but, believe it or not, the alternative may be worse. According to, “family members of a sexual-violence victim may push to ‘resolve’ the issue outside of court by pressing the alleged assailant to marry the victim to avoid public scandal.” I can’t imagine anything worse than being forced to marry my rapist.

Ultimately, countries with democracy and jury trials must trust their societies.


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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