Readers Write: Drinking water from the Mississippi River, speed limits, the benefits of jury trials – Star Tribune
I'm deeply concerned about the Army Corps of Engineers' plan to divest itself of responsibility for the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock ("No takers are found for Mpls. lock, dam," March 9). The lock maintains upstream water levels that ensure sufficient drinking water for nearly 1 million Twin Cities metro residents.
Minneapolis leaders have made it clear that the city doesn't want to own the lock. There's a real risk that a private owner, not accountable to the public, might pursue ownership.
Should a new owner's negligence cause the lock to fail, damage to our water supply could be felt within days. Homes, hospitals, schools, airports and even fire hydrants could be without water. Our government leaders would scramble to respond, but it's not a given that they could compel a private lock owner to cooperate or take responsibility.
The Upper St. Anthony Falls lock is also crucial for flood and invasive species management. Again, a yet-unidentified private owner (if one exists) might not have the wherewithal to provide these essential functions.
Congress recognizes this threat. In December 2020, it passed the Water Resources Development Act, which states that the Corps should continue to manage the lock and does not have the authority to transfer lock ownership. The divestment plan defies congressional direction.
The recent energy crisis in Texas is a cautionary tale about privatizing essential utility infrastructure. Minnesota needs to resist any efforts to take us down a similar path. The Corps is the appropriate entity to own and maintain the lock.
The writer is river corridor director for Friends of the Mississippi River.
This is in regard to Monday's article about speed limits being raised on Crosstown Hwy. 62 and Interstate 394 ("Speed limit will go up on Hwy. 62, I-394," March 8). It is a known fact that fuel efficiency decreases rapidly at speeds over 50 mph. Drivers can improve their fuel efficiency by up to 20% by driving more conservatively, with speed being the major factor. Just check out the federal government's own website at fueleconomy.gov/feg/driveHabits.jsp.
At a time when we need to start dramatically reducing our burning of fossil fuels, we should be lowering highway speed limits, not increasing them.
As the Derek Chauvin trial begins, I was not surprised to read Henning Schroeder's commentary ("A reasonable doubt about jury trials," Opinion Exchange, March 9) questioning the American jury system for criminal trials. Not a day seems to go by without some member of the intelligentsia criticizing the fact that ordinary Americans trust their fellow citizens to make important decisions in our society.
Schroeder's all-too-telling reference to the O.J. Simpson trial foreshadowed his view that the great unwashed are not up to this important task. Incredibly, he suggests that the Founders who authorized the Sixth Amendment would no longer subscribe to "such boneheaded parochial nonsense."
Au contraire! I assert that most citizens would rather be tried by a jury of their peers instead of three or four judges "who have studied the law" and know the meaning of arcane Latin phrases. This would seem especially so because in some countries, one of those learned judges may act as a prosecutor! What could possibly be unfair about that?
Herbert Jacob, in the book "Courts, Law and Politics in Comparative Perspective," noted that European judges' frequent interactions with police may well condition those magistrates "to favor the long-term interests" of regular participants in the process over those of the accused. Swell!
And, of course, the United States is hardly an outlier in utilizing a jury in criminal trials. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland do so. Even Prof. Schroeder's beloved France has the cour d'assises where judges and jurors sit together on appeal requiring a two-thirds majority to convict.
But fortunately for Schroeder, he does not have to be judged by 12 "legal amateurs." If he (or any criminal defendant) does not want a jury, he does not have to have one. Since 1930, federal criminal defendants may waive the jury and choose a court trial. Minnesota's Rules of Criminal Procedure allow a jury waiver as well.
So, Schroeder, hands off the jury system — if you want a judge to decide your guilt you can so choose. Let the rest of us trust our neighbors to make the right and just decision.
The writer is a sometime criminal-defense attorney.
I want to defend jury trials, in response to the commentary by Henning Schroeder. Nearly 12 years ago I was on a jury and, as Schroeder noted, I and my fellow jurors were untrained in the law. Yet I was impressed with the careful discussion we had poring over the evidence and the definitions of the crimes with which the defendant was charged. For a talk I gave later, after the trial, I spoke with the judge about juries. I was surprised at how firmly he supported trusting 12 untrained citizens to deliberate on guilt. His main point was that a group of people, even nonexperts, do better hashing out the many details and conflicting statements, weighing which points matter most and ultimately deciding. And I remember how many of the witnesses, both for the prosecution and the defense, had to admit that they had lied to the police.
In the jury deliberations, different jurors remembered different details and that helped us weigh the evidence. That trial lasted four days. In longer trials it would be even harder for one or a few judges to remember all the conflicting details. In addition, the judge is in the role of an umpire, making sure that the lawyers are following the rules and overseeing the procedural aspects of a trial. So, a judge can't just listen to the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses, essential parts of the deliberations in a trial.
I agree that juries are far from perfect and judges are by and large knowledgeable and devoted to justice. But still, I trust juries of committed citizens.
Schroeder's opinion rejecting jury trials should not be allowed to stand without a response. His rejection of the jury principle in American law extends not only to trial juries but to grand juries. The grand jury is not a constitutional prerequisite to a criminal indictment but it has been a feature of the common law since the Magna Carta. The fact that it has lost favor with many jurisdictions does not render its purpose irrelevant. The grand jury in felony cases prevents the state from employing criminal prosecutions as a political weapon. It is not entirely successful in that regard, but America's traditions continue to restrain political prosecutions.
The trial jury is another matter. First, trial by jury is a constitutional guarantee, and there is no prospect of its repeal. Schroeder, however, condemns the trial jury because its members are "legal amateurs." In this remark, Schroeder reveals his ignorance of the jury trial. Juries do not make decisions of law. Decisions of law are reserved for the judge. Juries are convened to decide contests of fact. In that respect they are far from perfect but in principle and in practice possess no greater stake in the outcome than assuring justice. Their value is the absence of any commitment to a given outcome when they are selected.
If the prosecuting agency controls both the legal judgments and the factual findings, criminal prosecutions become a political weapon. When that weapon is in hand, our democracy is finished.
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