U.S. Jury System on Trial: A Judge Examines the Devaluation of Jury Trials. (Government)

By Cristol, Hope | The Futurist, November-December 2002 | Go to article overview

U.S. Jury System on Trial: A Judge Examines the Devaluation of Jury Trials. (Government)


Cristol, Hope, The Futurist


Trial by jury faces an uncertain future in the United States. Critics have long called jury trials anachronistic and ultimately unjust, and in recent years courts have increasingly stripped juries of their power, according to the late U.S. District Judge William L. Dwyer in his last book, In the Hands of the People.

Due to increased plea bargaining, only 4.3% of federal criminal charges end in jury verdicts, down from 10.4% in 1988. And in civil trials, judges are increasingly taking the liberty of overturning jury recommendations, "giving less weight, that is, to the jury's evaluation of the evidence," Dwyer says.

Dwyer quotes law professors, lawyers, and judges who concur that there is a trend toward taking issues away from juries. "For the first time in our country's history, the future of the jury system is in serious jeopardy," says Ronald Jay Cohen, chairman of the American Bar Association's Litigation Section. "It's happening quietly in state after state, in court after court, and in several different areas of the law. But make no mistake, the right to trial by jury is slipping away."

Public confidence in juries has been shaken by controversial acquittals and hung juries in recent high-profile cases, such as O.J. Simpson's, and the prevailing belief that juries award excessive damages to claimants and that they simply cannot understand complex evidence. The result is a demoralizing loss of jury prestige.

"Institutions held in low esteem can slip away more easily than those we revere," Dwyer warns.

Dwyer blames trial by jury's downward spiral on the way adversarial justice is managed, not on the juries themselves. …

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