In this post in 'Courtroom-Law Movies' we go through the law-based movie "12 Angry Men". A short bio of the movie for our readers as follows:
12 Angry Men is a 1957 American drama film. It is directed by Sidney Lumet. The main cast is Henry Fonda. The number twelve symbolises the members of the jury. The film is set in New York City court-room and the jury members are chosen to give verdict on the alleged offence of first-degree murder committed by a slum-boy.

The Jury System
The film depicts the jury system in America. In the judicial system of America, there is a constitutional right for trial by jury. This is different from a bench trial. Various nations have adopted this system. There is a selection procedure for the jury members and if qualified, a summons will be issued to the prospective members and after the trial they will decide upon the questions of fact and may give their verdict for or against the accused/defendant.
A criminal jury usually have twelve members as in the case of our movie. In criminal cases there should be a unanimous decision/verdict by the jury and the jury members are allowed to discuss in- private about the facts, law involved in the case and arrive at a decision/verdict before a representative member discloses the same in Court.
As the movie begins, we can see the judge asking the jury to begin deliberations so as to give a verdict as to whether the boy is guilty of murder. Though it is the sole court-room scene in the movie, we get to know about various legal procedures and systems in the scene. For instance the following dialogue which the judge makes to the jury brings to light the system of criminal law.

Judge in New York City courtroom explains the duty of jury
"It is now your duty to sit down and separate the facts from the fancy. One man is dead and another man's life is at stake. If there is a reasonable doubt in your minds as to the guilt of the accused you must bring me a verdict of not guilty...However you decide your verdict must be unanimous....In the event that you find the accused guilty......death sentence is mandatory in this case".

Murder in the First Degree
A defendant is guilty of murder in first degree under New York Murder Law when the defendant, with intent to cause the death of another person, causes the death of such person, or of a third person and the defendant acted in an especially cruel and wanton manner pursuant to a course of conduct intended to inflict and inflicting torture upon the victim prior to the victim's death and the defendant was more than eighteen years old at the time of the commission of the crime. So we get most of the elements by the above definition provided by the statute in Penal law section 125.27(1)(a)(x). We could see the element of intention in the above definition. Intention means a conscious objective to commit a crime. Another important one is that the assailant must be of more than eighteen years of age at the time of commission of the offence.

Burden of Proof
So back to the movie, the jury men are then taken to a confined room in the court-house where they make their deliberations about the guilt of the accused. Henry Fonda was the sole juror to vote 'not-guilty' in the group. Perplexed by the stand of Henry Fonda, all other jurors started questioning him.

Henry Fonda do not raise his hands in the first voting held in the private room for jurors in the New York City Court
He wants to talk about it first before giving a verdict. He persuades other jurors to start discussing about the case. But as the jury members are against wasting their time, they do not want to talk. Then the representative of the jurors asks each one of the jurors who voted for guilty, talk about their decision-making and convince Fonda to complete a unanimous decision. When juror number two tells that he has voted guilty just because no-one proved otherwise Fonda tells that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. He further tells that the defendant does not even have to open his mouth and this right is in the Constitution. Here we may see that the burden to prove a fact that something has been done, said, seen, heard is on the person who alleges the same to have done, said, seen and heard by someone/himself. It is more clear in the case of a criminal trial. The defendant/accused can tell a story of his own; but not necessary. When it is a question of proving a case, burden of proof is upon the person who proposes it.

Circumstantial Evidence
Jurors number three and four gives a candid appraisal of facts of the case. The witness lives downstairs under the room where the killing took place. At about 12:10 AM mid-night he hears loud noises like in a fight. He heard an yelling "I'm gonna kill you". After fraction of seconds, he hears a body hitting the floor. He ran to the door and opened it and got out of his house and saw the defendant/accused boy running down the stairs and out of the house. He calls the police and police came to see the old man lying on the ground with a knife in his chest.

Motive for Crime
Another juror says that he was looking for a motive for the crime. He was convinced with the testimony of witnesses who heard a quarrel between the boy and his murdered father at 8:00 PM and the boy was slapped on his head twice by the father. Fonda contradicts it with saying that the boy was slapped by his father through all his life and two slaps on one fine day is not a good motive for him for committing a crime like murder. Another juror is much convinced about the past  crime records of the defendant boy.

Evidence Appreciation
The movie also takes the task of brilliant evidence appreciation as in a criminal trial. There is a person who heard the voice of the assailant and believes it is the voice of the defendant. Henry Fonda believes that it is not full proof as it could be anyone's voice. There is appreciation of circumstantial evidence also as the testimonies tell that a person saw the defendant running away from the crime scene seconds after the killing happened. There happened to be an eye witness who say that she saw the defendant killing his father from her apartment across the railway line through the last two cabins of a moving train. Regarding this there is a notion in the movie that any testimony which is meant to take the life of defendant should be accurate and not vague about the facts. Interestingly another juror finds out that it could be impossible to an old witness who saw the boy running away from the crime scene immediately after committing the crime and given testimony that it took fifteen seconds for him to reach the crime scene from the point where he heard a body hit the floor. Then the jurors against the death penalty brings in the exhibit of the apartment sketch/plan and they virtually creates the scene with timer. The old witness had a stroke last year and was dragging one leg for walking. Virtually the jurors against guilty pointed out that the old witness was lying as it will take more time for him to reach the door from the point where he heard the noise and there is no possibility that he saw the defendant running away from the crime scene immediately after the killing. This has shaken the prosecution story.
The next important point the jury makes out is the angle of the injury in the chest. It was downward one. The victim was taller than the defendant and the weapon produced is a switchblade knife. Serious doubts arises in the minds of jurors of how a switchblade knife will be used to stab downwards that too by a person shorter than the victim.
Again jurors find that it will be impossible for an eye-witness who wears eyeglasses to see the killing in split of seconds which happened about sixty feet away through the windows of last two cabins of a moving train from her apartment across the railway line. She was lying in bed and she looked out of her window as she heard the scream. Jurors find that no-one wears eyeglasses to the bed.

Reasonable Doubt Explained
We could find that the main point of law which the movie features is the theory of want of proof beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal trial.The expression "reasonable doubt" was used in American in Miles versus United States 103 U.S. 304 (1880) where it was stated that in a criminal case, the evidence upon which the jury are justified in finding a verdict of guilty must be sufficient to satisfy them of the prisoner's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. All the testimonies are not full proof evidence of the killing and there is always reasonable doubt in it. In United Kingdom  in Woolmington versus Director of Public Prosecutions deals with the burden of prosecution to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt. In Commonwealth v. Webster, 59 Mass. (5 Cush.) 295, 320 (1850): Reasonable doubt is "not mere possible doubt; because every thing relating to human affairs, and depending on moral evidence, is open to some possible or imaginary doubt." Instead, reasonable doubt exists when the "state of the case.., leaves the minds of jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction, to a moral certainty, of the truth of the charge."

Final Analysis
Going deeper into the movie we can also learn that one person's beliefs, experiences and studies can definitely influence him in forming an opinion on any given set of facts. He may not like to study the evidence in its correct perspective. Here the movie show us how a jury should see the facts and as the judge said in the opening statement, "to try and separate the facts from the fancy". We find that it is not just fancy, a jury has to keep personal prejudices aloof. One could see so many personality conflicts in this movie between the jurors. But ultimately it all ends well and there is a unanimous decision by the jury which is of "not guilty" as there exists a reasonable doubt in their minds. The movie surely will stick us to our seat in the interesting shift from 11-1 guilty-not guilty verdict to 1-11 guilty-not guilty decision and a unanimous final verdict.

Thus we could learn a lot from the movie. Some legal aspects like jury system, hung jury, a unanimous verdict, the burden of prosecution to prove the case, the principle of reasonable doubt, alibi, circumstantial evidence, motive etc can be learned from this movie. Though not a full-time court-room movie, Sense of Law recommends this movie to our readers as it deals with principles of criminal jurisprudence and brilliantly intertwines a murder case with cleverly crafted scenes and very natural and nice acting by the cast.

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