The last few decades have seen several scholars and courts striving to understand the meaning of the reasonable doubt standard and, in particular, to produce instructions that would enlighten jurors in this regard. The focus has been on defining the standard as a threshold indicating the quality and quantity of evidence sufficient for a finding of fact, or the degree of confidence that the fact finder should have before convicting. The results of these endeavours have not been satisfactory and nowadays it is still frequent that juries ask the court for clarification on the meaning of the standard. This paper argues that the reasonable doubt standard is better conceived and explained to the jury as requiring a particular method of reasoning, rather than merely a threshold. A direct explanation of the threshold is elusive and potentially encroaches on the fact finder’s role. Reference to a method of reasoning instead promises to provide useful directions to the jury which promote compliance with the threshold itself. The paper advances methodological directives inspired by works in philosophy of the mind and virtue epistemology. The paper then concludes with practical recommendations for devising a new instruction on the standard of proof.
Two features of the jury instructions in the Trayvon Martin case combined to make acquittal a virtual certainty: The court's failure to instruct the jury on the aggressor limitation on self-defense and its instruction on the so-called Stand Your Ground rule. However, unfortunate as that was, it was no mere aberration or particularly bad instance of judicial behavior. Rather, it revealed an extraordinary disconnect between courts and the juries that sit as fact-finders in an environment of almost stifling ignorance. They're not at fault, as our legal system, particularly in the criminal area, fails to provide juries with the proper tools to perform their jobs. And, worse, few seem to realize just what's wrong here.
This piece examines some of the root problems in this area, focusing particularly on the too-passive role that judges frequently play. Thus, juries dutifully sit through trials, frequently for long periods, listening to testimony with little focus on what to be listening for. Then, they're finally instructed in language terribly ill-suited to the tasks at hand, left largely to fend for themselves. The results are unsurprising, but in this piece I advocate for some reforms that could change matters enormously.
The article below examines the challenge of ensuring juror honesty during voir dire. I believe more and more attorneys will turn to investigating and monitoring jurors. Today's digital world has made it fairly easy to research someone's background.
The strength of the United States Constitution lies not only in its delegation of powers to separate branches of the government, but also in its creation of a system of checks and balances that protects the citizens from any one branch of government’s ability to intrude on individual rights. However, with regard to the seventh amendment, this hallowed system of checks and balances has been eviscerated by the use of the summary judgment procedure in federal court.
The seventh amendment to the United States Constitution requires that the right to a jury trial in civil lawsuits “shall be preserved”. It states:
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Despite the clear and unequivocal language preserving the right to jury trial, this right has been significantly diminished by the summary judgment procedure in federal court.
The summary judgment procedure allows a federal trial judge to eliminate a jury trial in a civil lawsuit. Instead of a jury trial, the federal trial judge renders judgment by concluding that a reasonable jury would only rule consistent with the judge’s ruling, and therefore, no jury trial is necessary. This summary judgment process is frequently used in federal court and has been the source of vehement ridicule among legal scholars.
Most legal scholars that have addressed this issue take the position that the summary judgment process is an unconstitutional violation of the seventh amendment. The United States Supreme Court, however, has held that the summary judgment procedure is not an unconstitutional violation of the seventh amendment.
This article takes the position that the seventh amendment requires an inherent checks and balances system that is eviscerated by the summary judgment procedure. This is due in large part to the fact that the very branch of government that violates the seventh amendment’s checks and balances system is the same branch of government that the seventh amendment was designed to check and balance. Plainly stated, the seventh amendment intended that the requirement of a jury trial would allow members of the local community, jurors, to be a check and balance against the power of federal district judges. It is this nullification of the checks and balances system by the federal district court judges that produces the greatest harm to our constitutional structure.
Protecting the checks and balances required by the seventh amendment does not require a decree that the summary judgment process is unconstitutional. But it does require creating a process by which the local community is allowed to fulfill its role as a check and balance against federal district court judges. In order to restore the seventh amendment protections to civil trials, the local community must be allowed to participate in the summary judgment process.
The solution is to restore the check and balance by adding a civil jury review of a judge’s order granting summary judgment. The civil jury review of the judge’s summary judgment order could be accomplished in a similar procedure to the grand jury used in criminal cases. It could be called a Summary Jury and it could occur during any criminal or civil jury term. The review process could occur by allowing the plaintiff and defendant attorneys an opportunity to orally argue to the jury their positions as to whether the federal judge’s decision granting summary judgment should be upheld. The summary jury would then render a unanimous verdict in support of the decision, which would uphold the decision. Anything less than a unanimous verdict in support of the decision would be a reversal of the court’s summary judgment decision.
If this process were employed, it would restore the checks and balances to the seventh amendment, while allowing for a procedure for the court to single out and address frivolous lawsuits. It would wrest from the judiciary the unfettered right to deny the community the opportunity to not only to serve on a jury, but to attend and participate in the process as members of the community.
The only way to protect the seventh amendment is to create in the summary judgment process, the checks and balances required by the seventh amendment. The citizens of the community must be allowed to serve on a jury in some capacity during the summary judgment process, and to perform the constitutional function of acting as a check and balance on the federal district court judges in a civil trial.
The importance of expert witnesses to modern litigation is clear, but the lack of reliable data about experts and their effectiveness in court is remarkable. Several studies have touched on the issue in recent decades, but the most comprehensive research in the area is based upon survey responses collected in 1988 and 1991.
To fill the gap, this study offers a two-step analysis of experts in actual civil jury trials. First, judicial records of trials revealed both the percentage of cases with experts and the number of experts per case. Second, surveys of the trial participants – judges, attorneys, experts and jurors – revealed factors that make an expert persuasive as well as some surprise responses debunking conventional wisdom surrounding experts.
By empirically measuring the role of experts in actual litigation, we can establish what makes them effective, when different litigants disagree about experts and why, and how the handling of experts has changed over time.
The practice of justifying judicial decisions by reference to consensual community values, which are distinguished from ordinary public opinion, has occurred in a number of jurisdictions and has been defended by prominent scholars. It provides a response to concern about the democratic legitimacy of judicial decision-making especially in constitutional cases. While it has also been critiqued for exacerbating concern about democratic legitimacy, the community values approach has proved resilient and merits further exploration. This chapter takes seriously its aim of promoting democratic legitimacy in constitutional decisions by connecting those decisions to the community’s values. Some of the democratic theorists referred to by adherents of the community values approach are also helpful. It is suggested that community values be understood as majority informed opinion. It is finally argued that the aim of connecting constitutional review to the community’s values in order to promote democratic legitimacy in bill-of-rights cases might be realised if constitutional juries are introduced.
Across the country, states are grappling with how to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Miller v. Alabama, which held that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment. Following Miller, it appears a sentencer may impose life without parole on a juvenile homicide offender only in those rare instances in which the sentencer determines, after considering the mitigating qualities of youth, that the juvenile’s crime reflects “irreparable corruption.” Courts are preparing to conduct resentencing hearings in states nationwide, and new cases where juveniles face the possibility of life in prison are entering the courts. Yet courts and scholars have not addressed a fundamental question: Who is the sentencer? Can a judge decide that a particular juvenile should die in prison or does the Constitution give juveniles the right to require that a jury make that determination? Courts and state legislatures responding to Miller have assumed that a judge can impose life without parole on a juvenile, as long as the judge has discretion to impose a less severe sentence. But viewing Miller in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Sixth Amendment jury right jurisprudence raises questions about the role of the jury in these post-Miller sentencing hearings. In particular, does an Eighth Amendment limit on a sentence operate in the same way as a statutory maximum sentence and set a ceiling that cannot be raised absent a jury finding? If so, a jury must find the facts beyond a reasonable doubt that expose a juvenile to life without parole. Understanding how the Court’s recent Sixth and Eighth Amendment cases interact has broad implications for how sentencing authority is allocated not only in serious juvenile cases but also in our justice system more widely.
In Warden v. Ayala the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court held that any federal constitutional error that may have occurred by excluding Ayala’s attorney from part of a Batson hearing was harmless. A federal court cannot grant Ayala habeas relief unless the state court’s rejection of his claim was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.