The Jury: An Important Model for Democratic Society

By Richardson, James T. | Judicature, March/April 2011 | Go to article overview

The Jury: An Important Model for Democratic Society

Richardson, James T., Judicature

The jury: An important model for democratic society The fury and Democracy: How Jury Deliberation Promotes Civic Engagement and Political Participation, by John Gastil, E. Pierre Deess, Philip J. Weiser, and Cindy Simmons. Oxford University Press, 2010. 267 pages, $24.95, paper.

This book has a profound message, and the message is backed up with solidly designed and implemented research. The overarching message is that serving on juñes in the United States has some profound effects, and the experience makes those who serve better, more engaged, citizens in some interesting ways.

The authors bring several different disciplinary perspectives to their ground-breaking study. The lead author is a professor of communication at the University of Washington, one (Deess) is in institutional planning at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, another (Weiser) is a law professor in die University of Colorado, and the fourth (Simmons) is an attorney who teaches mass media law and negotiation courses at UW. The authors thank some notables in the field of social psychology and law (such as Valerie Hans and Reíd Hastie) for assistance with designing the studies.

This data-filled volume has 24 figures, along with 34 separate tables presenting results, and is a treasure trove of information that has been meticulously gathered to address the many questions posed by the researchers to test whether their message is valid. It has nine chapters and an extensive "methodological appendix," which research oriented readers will find valuable.

Chapter 1, entided "Freedom in Our Hands," makes it clear that this is a project focused on the experiences of individual jurors who serve onjuries. The authors point out that 17 million people in America have served onjuries in the past five years, and they want to know what jurors learn through the experience, and what if any effect their service has on them in their subsequent lives? In this chapter they briefly discuss some major decisions that have expanded the right of all Americans to serve on juries (i.e. Batson v. Kentucky, 1986, and Powers v. Ohio, 1991), and they quote (p. 9) Justice Kennedy from Powers, who states a position that becomes the major question addressed in the research reported in this volume: Kennedy says:

The institution of the jury raises the people itself, or at least a class of citizens, to the bench of judicial authority [and] invests the people... with the direction of society.... The jury... invests each citizen with a kind of magistracy, it makes them all feel the duties which they are bound to discharge towards society; and the part which they take in the government.

Chapter 2 attempts to develop theoretical underpinnings for the focus of die volume, offering the concept of "political society," which the authors derive from the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville. They contrast this concept to the state and civil society, defining political society as made up of political associations that should be considered, according to de Tocqueville, " large free schools where all the members of the community go to learn the general theory of association." (p. 14). Juries of citizens in America are important, even crucial, "political associations," as are town hall meetings, newspapers, and other political and civic entities. This chapter includes (p. 22) a model of "howjury participation transforms jurors."

The next chapter presents a very creative and thorough approach to studying the so-called "participation effect," focusing specifically on voting, which the authors treat as a crucial indicator of citizen involvement. They began with in-depth interviews with 12 randomly selected jurors, and use that information to develop a method of finding statistically valid support for the hypothesis. They then built a sample of over 1 300 jurors who had served in jury trials in Olympia, Washington, and merged those juror's names with voting records, with quite promising results. …

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