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.