In the United States, voir dire is viewed as essential to selecting an impartial jury. Judges, lawyers, and the public fervently believe that a fair trial depends on distinguishing between prospective jurors who are impartial and those who are not. However, in England, Australia, and Canada, there are impartial jury trials without voir dire. This article challenges the assumption that prospective jurors enter the courtroom as either impartial or partial and that voir dire will reveal the impartial ones. Though voir dire fails as an “impartiality detector,” this article explores how voir dire contributes to the trial process in two critical, but unacknowledged, ways. First, voir dire helps to transform “reluctant citizens,” who might have biases into “responsible jurors,” who are able to perform their role impartially. Second, voir dire lays the foundation for the judge-jury relationship, which is aided by other practices during and even after the trial.
In 1993, Justice Doherty of the Ontario Court of Appeal crafted what was perhaps the most significant decision on racism in the Canadian criminal justice system of that decade. The twentieth anniversary of the groundbreaking decision in Parks offers an opportune moment to review the case law on challenges for cause to determine to what extent we have advanced the discussion on racism in criminal justice. Are we now more likely to recognize and respond to the harm of racial prejudice in the criminal trials of racialized accused? Have understandings of racism become more sophisticated and nuanced in the context of challenges for cause? In particular, how has the Parks question evolved to reflect the complex and elusive forms of contemporary prejudice in Canada, including subconscious racism? In this article, I argue that the progress we have made in examining the racial prejudices of prospective jurors has been negligible. While some individual judges have engaged in thoughtful and insightful analyses, the vast majority do not grapple with the insidiousness of racism in any meaningful way and reject attempts to deepen the inquiry.
The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 creates several new offences relating to juror misconduct, which have generally been considered pragmatic responses to the immediate problem of jurors using the internet to find additional "evidence." Taking as its starting point the possibility of jury studies being written from an "interdisciplinary" perspective situated between mainstream legal scholarship and legal history, this article argues that after the practical abolition of juror punishment in 1670 the judge-jury relationship has usually been focused on juror guidance, not on juror punishment. This has had important consequences for the institution’s civic function, meaning any move in the direction of juror punishment has to be considered not simply as a pragmatic response to an immediate, isolated problem, but also as an important part of the jury’s continuing history as a political institution.
Despite the importance of damage awards, juries are often at sea about the amounts that should be awarded, with widely differing awards for cases that seem comparable. We tested a new model of damage award decision making by systematically varying the size, context, and meaningfulness of numerical comparisons or anchors. As a result, we were able to elicit large differences in award amounts that replicated for 2 different cases. Although even arbitrary dollar amounts (unrelated to the cases) influenced the size of award judgments, the most consistent effects of numerical anchors were achieved when the amounts were meaningful in the sense that they conveyed the gist of numbers as small or large. Consistent with the model, the ordinal gist of the severity of plaintiff’s damages and defendant’s liability predicted damage awards, controlling for other factors such as motivation for the award-judgment task and perceived economic damages. Contrary to traditional dual-process approaches, numeracy and cognitive style (e.g., need for cognition and cognitive reflection) were not significant predictors of these numerical judgments, but they were associated with lower levels of variability once the gist of the judgments was taken into account. Implications for theory and policy are discussed.
In 1949, the leadership of the American Communist Party was put on trial for allegedly conspiring to teach the overthrow of the American government. The case, known as the Dennis trial, is a major part of American political and Cold War history. One of the rarely-discussed aspects of the case, however, is that the defendants argued that the jury was stacked against them: it would be composed almost exclusively of wealthy white men. The defendants' claim of jury discrimination was denied, but it can be seen as a vital step towards reforming New York's "Blue Ribbon Panel" system of jury selection, eventual Congressional legislation to end bias in jury selection, and the slow recognition by the Supreme Court that jury discrimination was more pervasive than previously thought. This Article is the first scholarly effort to explain the nature of the jury challenge in Dennis and situate the defendants' failure as part of a larger narrative of discrimination and injustice. Section II of this Article provides background on the case and establishes its importance as one of the most significant political trials of the twentieth century. Section III traces the evolution of Supreme Court jurisprudence on jury discrimination prior to the Dennis case. Section IV explains the peculiar "Blue Ribbon Panel" system of jury selection used in New York at the time for cases seen by the court system as especially serious or important. Section V dives into the heart of the Dennis defendants' claim that a skewed selection process would result in a jury that was almost wholly white, male, and upper-class. Last, Section VI discusses the aftermath of the Dennis trial and its importance both historically and legally.
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 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.