American Judges Association
Date of this Version
Recently the United States Supreme Court has instructed us that any contested fact, other than a prior conviction, that increases the penalty for a crime must be determined by a jury. In addition, the highest court for the Commonwealth of Virginia has determined that, in capital cases, a claimed defense of mental retardation raises a jury question. Whether it is a case prompted by these high court rulings, one of the many accounting fraud prosecutions in New York, or scientific evidence presented in a products liability action in the Midwest, the American jury is repeatedly being called upon to make findings in new and complex matters. Unfortunately it is common for jurors to perform these weighty tasks in unfit conditions and without the learning tools that we take for granted in school. While computers and interactive technology are becoming commonplace in our classrooms, juror note-taking and questioning of expert witnesses have customarily been discouraged in courtrooms. Moreover, despite the wellspring of pride in our democratic ideals after September 11, 2001, corrosive myths and misgivings about the jury trial still abound. In this regard we need only reflect upon several notorious jury verdicts in the 1990s. Laymen and litigators, who fix upon those cases, think juries too often get it wrong. In addition, there is the recently recurring diminishment of governmental funding for trial courts and widespread citizen reluctance to respond to summonses for jury duty. For example, in many large, urban court systems, the response rate to jury summoning is about 20%. Is it any wonder that citizens are dodging jury service in record numbers? There is good news, though. A growing number of courts are taking steps to perform at a higher level with respect to jury trials. As shown below, a movement started in Arizona has taken hold in a growing number of states. Creative court administrators, courageous judges, and inspired bar leaders are joining together to bring our cherished institution of trial by jury into the 21st century. Articles included in this issue of Court Review show how members of the legal academy are testing and demonstrating the dynamics of jury trial innovations that are founded on principles long recognized by the social sciences and business communities. Indeed, as described in this article, there now exists a National Program to Increase Citizen Participation in Jury Service through Jury Innovations. Before long, there will be an encyclopedic collection of uniform data called the “State of the States” that will tell us how every state operates each aspect of its jury trial systems. Importantly, the State of the States will provide court leaders with information about how to contact persons in other parts of the country who have undertaken and implemented successful jury trial innovations.
Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 41:1 (2004), pp. 4-10. Copyright © 2004 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission. Online at http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/htdocs/publications.htm.