NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public Favors Jury Trials

February 25, 1999

According to a new national survey, 80 percent of Americans believe that, "in spite of its problems, the American justice system is the best in the world." The survey, "Perceptions of the U.S. Justice System," was sponsored by the American Bar Association and conducted by M/A/R/C Research of Westchester, Ill., which interviewed a representative sample of 1,000 adults by telephone.

Among the survey findings:

  • At the root of Americans' support of the justice system is trial by jury, with 78 percent of respondents saying it is the fairest way to determine guilt or innocence.
  • More than two-thirds -- or 69 percent -- believe that juries are the most important part of our justice system.
  • Yet more than a third of the respondents -- 37 percent -- believe incorrectly that a criminal defendant has to prove his or her innocence in a trial.

The survey also asked respondents to rate their confidence in 17 different institutions in American society, including components of the justice system, other professions and institutions, and the media.

Respondents had the most confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court, with 50 percent saying they were "extremely or very confident" in this institution, compared with a 1978 Yankelovich survey that found 36 percent expressing confidence in the Supreme Court.

Thirty-four percent of respondents in the ABA survey expressed strong confidence in other federal courts, and 28 percent expressed strong confidence in state courts.

In contrast, only 18 percent expressed strong confidence in the U.S. Congress, while 14 percent expressed strong confidence in lawyers. The media fared the worst, with strong confidence expressed by only 8 percent of the respondents, and slight or no confidence by 60 percent.

And when asked to identify the branches of government, only 39 percent could identify all three unaided; 25 percent could not identify even one branch.

Source: "Perceptions of the U.S. Justice System," February 24, 1994, American Bar Association.


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