The Jury as a Means of Equity in John Grisham’s A Time to Kill



The primary objective of the jury system is to give a voice to the community in legal proceedings in order to prevent governmental oppression and arrive at righteous verdicts. Yet to meet this demanding claim, jurors are not only prompted to decide on facts and evidence, but also to ponder on the application of the law. Although the jury lost its law-making function in the early 19th century, it is still capable of being a means of equity due to its human perspective on the law that ought to guarantee an interpretation in accordance with our sense of justice. In this article, a critical law in literature approach, focusing on John Grisham’s 1989 novel A Time to Kill, will illustrate the role of a fictional jury unbound to the strict codes of the law but still responsible for an equitable decision. It will display the jury as the conscience of the community, torn between “the idea of justice based on common sense, legal nihilism, and innate feelings of what is right and wrong on the one hand and the concept of justice represented by the state and the law on the other” (Hostettler 14). The sense of justice, which ultimately is the only foundation of legal decisions and interpretations for judges and jurors, and its frictions with the law per se will be thoroughly investigated on the basis of the novel. At the same time, this article presents a veritable smorgasbord of legal, ethical, and ethnic issues which are all deeply rooted in America’s cultural and literary heritage. Besides the focus on the jury as embodiment of the community’s sense of justice. a parallel will be drawn between the jurors in A Time to Kill and the readers, who are in a way committed to ‘jury duty’ too, since most literary writings on the jury place them in the role of external jurors, who, like their fictional counterparts, have to harmonize the law and equity.


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© Springer-Verlag/Wien 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Doktorand am Institut für Amerikastudien, American Corner InnsbruckUniversität InnsbruckAustria

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