Thursday, June 02, 2005

First Day of Blogging

It seems that few people - lawyers included - take juries seriously. In law school, juries are treated like a bunch of village idiots - in courtrooms, they are treated just a little better than the defendants, at least in criminal cases. Yet the American legal system depends on juries, gives juries immense powers (so long as nobody tells them about them!) hides behind juries, and does all it can to avoid holding jury trials.

Chief Judge William G. Young, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Courts, Boston, MA, has stated that:

"I think the data is incontrovertible that the American jury system is dying. It's dying faster on the federal side than on the state side; it's dying faster in civil cases than in criminal. But, it's dying."

Is Judge Young alarmist? Perhaps. And perhaps not. And perhaps he IS, but someone needs to set off the alarm.

My purpose in establishing this blog is to investigate, publicly, whether the alarm is justified.

The data shows that jury trials are becoming rare occurrences. In Federal courts, less than 1.5% of civil case filings result in a jury trial. Criminal trials are also becoming more rare, as sentencing guidelines have allowed defendants to know the size of the "trial tax" that will be imposed if they are convicted.

As of this date, there is no citizen outrage at the impending demise of the jury trial. The only citizen group at all interested, the American Jury Institute, is largely focused on the jury nullification issue. While I am currently the Chair of that organization, it has not adopted the broad perspective that I think is necessary.

Now, don't get me wrong - I've written a book on jury nullification - but it is a small corner of the overall picture. If juries don't get seated, they can't nullify. And nullification is only appropriate in a small percentage of cases. Trials are appropriate in all cases.

What would I like to see? I'd like to see the jury considered as important in the education of primary school students as any other fundamental government institution -- the presidency, Congress, the Supreme Court, etc. In my opinion, if we do not, as a people, understand why the jury system is important, we will be unlikely to respect jury verdicts, appear for jury duty, or protect and preserve the institution when it is under attack.

In the coming weeks and months, I intend on raising more related issues here. Please feel free to drop comments and let me know if there is anything anyone reading this is interested in exploring.


At 8:42 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Welcome to the blawgosphere. I sent you a welcome note on my blog, which can be found by clicking here.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Eh Nonymous said...

Interesting post/blog.

What about the black-box-of-the-jury model? O'Connor once insisted (I seem to recall) that if someone carried in a Wall Street Journal when they came to sit as a juror that they would be contaminating the process, bringing something in from outside; but if juror misconduct came from within - doing drugs, getting drunk, etc. - then the jury process was secure. And the process fair. And the verdict justified.

Why do we not have better exceptions to the evidence rules excluding juror testimony? When a juror is making threats against other jurors, shouldn't that come out? Shouldn't we know it when the basis for decisions is legally inadequate or morally impermissible? For example, I would (if I was the supreme court plus legislature) overturn jury decisions based on: revenge, conviction on the basis of stereotypes alone, misinterpretations of the standard of persuasion, misinterpretations of the evidence or the charge, and personalities of the lawyers.

On another note, can't we rename "beyond a reasonable doubt"? Call it, "the highest possible level of certainty below omnipotence" or "higher than just clear and convincing, the decision must be the utterly unavoidable conclusion from the evidence"?

At 3:28 AM, Blogger Whistle B. Currier said...

Kudos to you (Mike) and Clay for finally starting a "chat room" or whatever you want to call it that consentrates on the treasonous activism of our government leaders, judges especially, of reverting our justice system away from the intended "trial by jury" that was instituted by our founders, and is the logical purpose of that system of prosecution, i.e. to override the prosecution of law enforcement that is apparently overbearing, notwithstanding inculpatory evidence.
P.S. Mike: I tried to post this message on your "blog" but don't know what my URL is.

At 3:51 AM, Blogger Whistle B. Currier said...

To: "eh nonymous"

Dear Mr. eh nonymous:

Your comments suggest that you have not considered much of what is offered by FIJA in the line of educational materials. And that you have never been on trial for a crime where the facts are not in dispute but you think you should be acquited because of overbearing law enforcement. That is what happened to me in 1985 when I was convicted of "Disorderly Conduct" by a jury of my peers and I was not allowed to mention the concept of telling my jury: "I did it and I'm glad, and you should vote not guilty because those stupid cops were prejudiced against me because I was trying to exercise my right to express my opinion in public by criticizing the system."
After you've spent time in jail for exercising your percieved protected right, Mr. nonemous, you will want to investigate further the glorious history of jury nullification.
The term "jury misconduct" is a relatively new concept in the judicial arena and it begs an inclusive definition.


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