The Jury and Democracy: How Jury Deliberation Promotes Civic Engagement and Political Participation

By John Gastil; E. Pierre Deess et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 7
Civic Attitude Adjustment

Given the range of findings presented thus far, it is fair to wonder why no prior research had investigated the role jury service plays in shaping American civic and political life. In the course of our project, we discovered that at least one scholar had conducted precisely such a study. From 1989 to 1990, Paula Consolini, who was then a University of California-Berkeley doctoral student, visited San Francisco area courthouses with much the same purpose as ourselves. Our study to this point has focused on changing jurors’ post-service behaviors, but Consolini focused on how service could change jurors’ attitudes. She hoped to learn whether jurors change how they think about courts, democratic institutions, and themselves.1

Looking at twenty-six nonviolent criminal trials held principally in municipal and superior courts, Consolini conducted in-depth interviews and gathered pre- and post-service surveys from 126 sworn jurors and alternates, plus 159 prospective jurors who were not empanelled. She found that almost half (45 percent) of the jurors reported learning new factual information about the legal process. Consolini concluded that sworn jurors, “especially those serving for the first time, seemed to develop some greater depth of understanding and appreciation of the due process principles which they applied during their service.” As one juror explained to her, the service experience showed “how the principles fit the logic of the process.” With further interviews, Consolini found that most trial jurors and even some of those who did not become empanelled “reported greater depth of appreciation of general procedural rights like the right to an attorney and the presumption of innocence.”2

It is encouraging that jurors gained more and deeper knowledge of the legal system as a result of their service. That particular benefit seems a

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