Monday, April 20, 2015

Lempert and Stern on Juries

As it happens, two interesting papers on the jury went up on SSRN about the same time.  The first is by Richard Lempert, University of Michigan Law School, The American Jury System: A Synthetic Overview.  It is forthcoming in the Chicago-Kent Law Review
This essay, originally written for a Swiss volume, and revised with added material for publication in the Chicago Kent Law Review, is intended to provide in brief compass a review of much that is known about the American jury system, including the jury's historical origins, its political role, controversies over its role and structure, its performance, both absolutely and in comparison to judges and mixed tribunals, and proposals for improving the jury system. The essay is informed throughout by 50 years of research on the jury system, beginning with the 1965 publication of Kalven and Zeisel's seminal book, The American Jury. The political importance of the jury is seen to lie more in the jury's status as a one shot decision maker largely independent of trial court bureaucracies than in its ability to nullify the law. Despite flaws in the jury process and room for improvement, the message that emerges from the literature is that juries take their job seriously and for the most part perform well. There is little reason to believe that replacing jury trials with bench trials or mixed tribunals would improve the quality of American justice, and some reason to think it might harm it.
The second SSRN paper is Simon Stern, University of Toronto Faculty of Law, has posted Forensic Oratory and the Jury Trial in Nineteenth-Century America:
The institution of the jury underwent radical change in the United States during the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the century, the jury trial was a form of popular amusement, rivaling the theater and often likened to it.The jury’s ability to find law, as well as facts, was widely if inconsistently defended. The trial’s role as a source of entertainment, and the jury’s ability to nullify, were consistent with a view of forensic oratory that emphasized histrionics, declamation, and emotionally charged rhetoric as means of legal persuasion. By the end of the century, judges had gained more control of the law-finding power, and various questions of fact had been transformed into questions of law. Many of the details that would have aided the lawyers’ dramatic efforts were screened out by a host of new exclusionary rules. The overall effect was to afford less scope for lawyers' emotional excesses — and to make those performances seem disreputable and outmoded. As an institution, the trial continued to figure significantly in American culture through the first three decades of the twentieth century. Numerous factors conspired to weaken the trial’s prominence after that time. Although these changes in forensic style have not usually been considered as a part of that narrative, they may have helped to facilitate the decline of the trial, by reorienting its function away from a broadly representative one, and towards one that emphasized dispassionate analysis in the service of objectivity and technical exactitude, appealing to a rather different community, made up of professional lawyers and those laypersons who could appreciate their values.
Fwiw, in congressional testimony in 1938, Roscoe Pound attributed the "scintilla of evidence" standard to frontier Americans' lack of good alternatives to jury trials in the way of entertainment.  Thank God for Reality TV!  As for "histrionics, declamation, and emotionally charged rhetoric," consider David Gilmour Blythe's Trial Scene, which I believe dates from the 1860s.  (Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester.)