Wednesday, July 12, 2006

“(Gullible) Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury”

Trial by jury is one of those things that look really great on paper…and, unfortunately, that’s where most of the greatness stops. With people going to court over stupid things, and lawyers dragging out the trials forever, it’s no wonder why nearly everyone tries to get out of jury duty. We servants of the public (read “state”) have to show up and sit through a long selection process, including instructional videos and a pep talk from the commissioner. This is all done for free since we only get paid after the first day of service. The opportunity cost is enormous! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a graduate student working part-time (like me!) or a CEO. Jury duty is a big blow to one’s pocketbook. On the other hand, the general principle of trial-by-jury, inefficient as it is, shouldn’t be abolished. Many people have said that they’d never want to have their cases decided by just one person. Surely something can be done about the system.


Mike said...

Well, what do you suggest?

Anonymous said...

Consider it the cost of doing business. In this case the business is being a US citizen. (And can you tell me when was the last time a CEO was on a jury?)

ryan said...

Are you complaining about civil trials by jury or criminal trials? I'd probably be with you on the former**, but I don't know if there's a real problem with the latter. Isn't that a strong defense against tyranny? Certainly British judicial history suggests as much. Are any of the other systems that have been tried any better?

** though this might change my mind, at least as far as medical malpractice suits go:

Jenny said...

Please don't think I'm advocating its abolition! We definitely shouldn't get rid of trial-by-jury! Trial-by-jury is good for both civil and criminal cases. It is a strong defense against tyranny. It is a citizen’s duty to make sure that others receive justice.

My purpose in bringing this up was its inefficiency. If our court system as a whole was better run, the jury system wouldn't be so troublesome. Because I'm not into law, I don't know what needs to be done to improve it. Punishing those who make false accusations would be a start. Curtailing “sue-happy” individuals would be another. The problem is that attempts to make court proceedings go smoother and faster might, in the end, hinder justice.

David said...

I wouldn't suggest getting rid of juries, either but we do have a recognize a sampling bias in juries. You can get out of jury duty and you can get out of it multiple times. People who are in a better position to get out of it probably share certain traits that are not represented on the jury. Granted, the weeding out process by lawyers decreases the bias but it can't be perfect.

One idea I have is changing jury size. I know 12 has some historical logic to it but is 11 somehow horrible? Even eight is a pretty large number given there has to be pure consensus (note that the Supreme Court has nine and only needs a simple majority to make a decision). By decreasing the amount of jurers, we decrease the strain on society. The only problem is lawyers might insist on a longer screening period as each jurer has become more influential, but, again, a full consensus is still required and it already sounds lengthy....

Jenny, I'm wondering if you can share any details about the experience. (Length of time, nature of lectures, questions...)

ryan said...

I think the larger number helps get better results in things like crowd theory.

What about the British idea of "loser pays"? (You'd probably have to couple that with caps on legal spending or it'd sound like it'd end up as a plutocracy.) I suppose you could also curb some of the legal costs of civil trials by switching to more of a strict liability system (less effort to determine fault) but that probably sounds a bit wacky

Anonymous said...

Frivilous lawsuits don't happen as often as some think. They just make the news more often. When was the last time you saw a $500 payment for a bad job make the headlines?

Tampering with jury size works both ways in terms of justice. It's easier to make a full jury pool, but you increase the odds of bias against the defendant. Since everyone has to agree on a guilty verdict minority defendants are more likely to be falsly convicted.

But the flip side is that by keeping or enlarging the size of the jury, you increase the odds of bais towards the defendant, someone who will never convict even if you had a confession and video tape evidence.

So is it better to let a guilty man go free or put an innocent man in jail?

(I'm sticking to criminal court. I think most civil cases should be decided by a judge who bases his decision on facts and the law instead of emotion.)