Justice Through Juries
Few activities of American civic life involve as many people, have as great an effect, or represent as direct a contact point to the workings of our democracy as jury service.
There are more than 80,000 jury trials in this country every year with nearly a million Americans empaneled to serve. More than five times that number take time out of their busy schedules to show up to their local courthouse after receiving a summons.
Besides voting, few activities in the life of the typical American offer this kind of active participation in our system of government.
Yet, the temporary and often brief nature of jury service means that individual citizens are not invested in the jury system in any sustained way. There exists no natural constituency of jurors.
Advocating For Jurors
It is, therefore, the responsibility of the legal profession, and others, to advocate on the juror’s behalf, to always refine and improve jury practice so that the right to a jury trial is preserved and juror participation is enhanced.
Broadly, we seek:
A jury that is a true representation of the community.
A jury that has the tools and processes necessary to consume information, deliberate constructively, and deliver a just verdict confidently.
A jury that is accorded the respect and treatment that is commensurate with the gravity of its role and responsibility.
Enter the American Jury Project.
Led ably by its chair, Patricia Lee Refo of Phoenix, and with strong support from the Criminal Justice Section, the Judicial Division, and the Litigation Section of the ABA, the American Jury Project is a dream team of national experts in jury management. Together they have undertaken an exhaustive examination of specific standards and best practices of jury service. Additionally, the project’s advisory committee, representing the full spectrum of legal organizations across the country, provided the necessary perspective and insight to make this initiative a truly profession-wide endeavor. After extensive meetings, including a national symposium at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., and significant comment and review, a set of 19 principles has been developed that defines our fundamental aspirations. Each principle is accompanied by a standard designed to express the best of the current-day jury practice. These principles will go before the association’s House of Delegates in February for formal adoption.
Striving For Change
Among the many aspirations put forth are calls for “one day, one trial,” 12-member panels, adequate juror pay, enforced employer support, unanimous verdicts, inclusive juror source lists, juror instructions throughout trial, note-taking, juror questions through a judge, and a host of other issues important to the health and effectiveness of the jury system.
You can review the entire document of principles and standards at www.abanet.org/juryprojectstandards.
Of course, every jurisdiction sets its own policy on these matters, but the principles laid out by the American Jury Project are what we believe to be the most effective policies for a vibrant and healthy jury system.
These principles are but one more example of the American legal profession, without regard to geography, ideology or practice setting, coming together under the big tent of the American Bar Association and making a joint statement in the cause of the administration of justice.