NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Evidence Shows Juries Are On The Way Out

March 2, 2001

Juries have played a prominent role in legal systems for centuries. But statistics show juries are playing a much reduced role these days, for a variety of reasons.

  • Only 4.3 percent of federal criminal charges now end with jury verdicts -- down from 10.4 percent as recently as 1988.
  • The number of federal civil cases resolved by juries has also dropped -- to 1.5 percent from 5.4 percent in 1962.
  • The demise of juries is welcomed among some participants in the legal system -- with appeals judges, for example, being increasingly willing to overturn jury verdicts.
  • In an analysis by Cornell University law professors Kevin M. Claremont and Theodore Eisenberg, the proportion of federal appeals courts reversing civil jury awards in injury and contract cases escalated from less than 20 percent in 1987 to nearly 40 percent a decade later.

The reasons use of juries is waning include the tendencies of jurors to make outlandish awards in civil cases, the explosive growth of private arbitration, increased plea bargaining, tort-reform laws limiting jury awards and Supreme Court rulings giving judges new power to screen the evidence presented to jurors.

In a series of articles last spring, the Dallas Morning News found that -- often through legislation -- 41 states imposed some limits on the types of cases juries could hear also, lawyers are asking for jury trials less often.

Source: William Glaberson, "Juries, Their Powers Under Siege, Find Their Role Is Being Eroded," New York Times, March 2, 2001.


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