The Disappearing Jury Trial
The right to a trial by jury is long-recognized as essential to the fabric of the American jurisprudence, a vital part of America’s system of checks and balances and an assurance that justice will be administered in accordance with the community standards and the law. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence included the right to a trial by jury as a fundamental human right; the United States Constitution (as well as many state constitutions) explicitly protect the right to a jury trial in certain cases.
Despite the fundamental nature of the right to a jury trial, the percentage of cases being resolved by juries, in both criminal and civil cases, has significantly declined. Since 2002, less than five percent of federal criminal cases, and less than two percent of federal civil cases, have been resolved by juries. Similarly, state courts report jury trial rates of less four percent in criminal cases and less than one percent in civil cases.
Politicians, lawyers, scholars and lawyers alike have speculated on the reasons for the decline in jury trials. Some of the factors contributing to the decline seem apparent – uniform sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences may increase the perceived risk of a jury trial on the criminal side. With increasing frequency, mandatory arbitration provisions in contracts eliminate the right to a jury trial on the civil side.
Committed to preserving the jury trial as a fundamental tenant of our democracy, the Commission on the American Jury is conducting a survey to examine the policies, practices, and decisions across jurisdictions that affect the frequency with which Americans are choosing exercise the right to a trial by jury. The Commission will be collecting data through June 1, 2018 and will publish the results of the survey in late 2018.
The Commission invites judges, lawyers, court staff, and other participants in the legal system to complete the survey. We hope that you will take the time to provide your valuable insight and perspective on this critical issue. We encourage you to pass this information along to your colleagues in the law and welcome distribution of the survey to interested individuals and organizations.
Questions about this research effort can be directed to Stephanie McCoy Loquvam, Chair of the Commission on the American Jury at firstname.lastname@example.org or ABA Commission on the American Jury Director Kris Berliant at email@example.com.