July 16, 2015 Articles

Are Juries Really Such a Wildcard Compared with Judges?

By Leslie Ellis

Jury trials are becoming rarer and rarer. The National Center for State Courts’ Court Statistics Project found that there was a 32 percent decline in the number of civil jury trials (0.6 percent of all civil dispositions) during 1976 through 2002 in 22 states. However, bench trials declined by only 7 percent during the same time period. See Thomas G.Munsterman, “Jury News,” 19 Court Manager 50 (2004). Time hasn’t helped—in 2012, Wisconsin state courts saw only 0.23 percent of cases decided by juries. The numbers look very similar in the federal courts. The American Bar Association found that, despite a five-fold increase in the number of civil cases filed in the federal courts from 1962 through 2002, the rate of civil jury trials dropped from almost 12 percent of cases filed to fewer than 2 percent. See Patricia L. Refo, Opening Statement, “The Vanishing Trial,” 30 Litig. 2 (Winter 2004).

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