Suing to protect jurors’ right to serve

This lawsuit is a great example of advocacy for the rights of citizens to be considered for jury service. In an article for The Appeal, Kira Lerner explained:

Mississippi District Attorney Doug Evans was hit with a proposed class action lawsuit today on behalf of every Black person eligible to serve on a jury in his district….The lawsuit, filed by attorneys with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, claims that since Evans became lead prosecutor for Mississippi’s Fifth Circuit Court District in 1992, he and his assistants have struck prospective Black jurors 4.4 times more frequently than white jurors, “a rate that is unparalleled in any available study.”

As we showed in The Jury and Democracy, deliberating on juries can boost long-term voting rates. Hence, discriminating against a group of people has the effect of reducing their electoral impact. It’s a subtle way of reducing a group’s power in society.

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Jury system continues to advance in Argentina

Argentina had a funny provision in its constitution, which enabled Congress to establish a jury system. It chose not to, but that provision lingered and eventually inspired legal reformers to champion the jury system as a means of bolstering democracy in Argentina. One province at a time, the jury is appearing in that country, and the latest to adopt it is Mendoza, where the inaugural jury there found a defendant guilty of homicide. The full details (in English) are available at the Argentine Association for Jury Trials blog.

That latest blog post also buries an important detail:

Only two days ago, the Supreme Court of Justice ruled that the provincial jury systems are consistent with the Constitution. It was the first ruling in 165 years dealing with jury trials.

That’s a big deal because the Supreme Court had not weighed in on this growing jury system. This likely clears the way for the continued expansion of this new institution in Argentina.

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In the age of Trump, a sign that jurors can still set politics aside

Many people probably wondered whether the jurors in the Manafort trial would be able to set aside any question of how a verdict might affect Special Prosectuor Robert Mueller’s investigation. There was relatively little discussion of this, but all it would take was one strident Trump supporter on the jury to derail the jury’s deliberations, if that individual saw it as his/her duty to defend the President and his associates. Trump’s tweets during the trial in defense of Manafort may have been designed to activate this sense of duty.


Then, from NBC News comes a story suggesting that this jury managed to look past politics. One of the jurors was Paula Duncan, a believer in Trump’s plans to “Make America Great Again.” She came to the trial skeptical of Mueller’s investigation, but–the NBC News reporter concluded–

…she also had no doubt that Paul Manafort, once Trump’s campaign chairman, was guilty. She would have convicted him on all counts, she said, but she and 10 other jurors were stymied by a lone holdout. And no, she doesn’t believe that person, a woman, was a Trump supporter.

“I wanted Paul Manafort to be innocent,” Duncan said, “but he wasn’t.”

What makes this all the more remarkable is that even after this trial, Duncan believes that the Mueller investigation into potential collusion with Russia is a witch hunt designed to take down a good president. This, she knows, from her own experience.

“I as a voter, when I went out to check my boxes I didn’t see any Russian holding a gun to my head, so how could Russia have affected the campaign results,” said Duncan, who first spoke to Fox News.

Even so, she couldn’t deny the case against Manafort. The evidence of his tax evasion and other crimes was overwhelming. “In the end I did what we needed to be done,” she said. “I did the right thing.”

Like many jurors before her, she got on the trial by being coy about her political views. “I didn’t believe politics had any place in that courtroom,” Duncan said, “so I was somewhat vague in my answers. I knew I could be fair and impartial.”

That would appear to be an accurate self-assessment. And it’s one more example of how a deliberative institution, such as the jury, can place limits on our personal political biases when it comes to serving the interests of one’s community or nation.


Posted in Deliberation on juries, Public/media views of juries, Social/political impact of juries, Verdicts juries reach, Voir dire and jury selection | Leave a comment

How Jury Service Influences Attitudes toward the Court System

Written by Jimin Pyo, a doctoral student in the Department of Criminal Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY.

[Today’s post comes from a guest scholar, who has a new publication. We encourage anyone with research relevant to this blog to write short summaries for our readership.]

Despite the declining frequency of jury trials in the United States, juries continue to play vital roles in American society and culture. The jury trial experience is deeply related to many Americans’ feelings toward their democracy and its cultural traditions. Few studies, however, have examined the influence jury service has on jurors’ perceptions of the legal system. Those influences are important because they can lead to broader social and political changes.

To address this gap in the literature, I conducted a study of 759 jurors to test the hypothesis that deliberating on a criminal jury would lead to more favorable perceptions of the criminal prosecution system. This expectation was in line with deliberative democratic theory, which argues that citizens often develop more favorable attitudes toward democratic institutions when they take part in collective decision making focused on common good.

My statistical analysis showed that citizens who deliberated on a criminal jury tended to have more favorable impression of–and more knowledge about–the prosecution system, as compared to those without jury experience. This study informs ongoing effort to examine the influence of jury service. Further studies on this topic would be useful not only for policy makers in the US but also for other countries, such as Argentina and South Korea, that are developing criminal jury trial systems.

The full article citation is: Pyo, Jimin. 2017. “The impact of jury experience on perception of the criminal prosecution system.” International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice. Early access online at ScienceDirect.



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The national spotlight and Trump’s tweeting complicate any Mueller investigation jury trials

In the wake of the recent news that Michael Flynn has plead guilty to lying to the FBI, the news cycle has again become consumed by the Mueller investigation.

The investigation’s first trial, into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Richard Gates, is expected to commence in the spring according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. But the media’s unrelenting focus on the case, the fact that it deals with such a politically charged issue, and the profound implications its outcome will have for the Presidency–all in a historically divisive national political climate– raise questions about whether any jury could hear such a case without prejudice.

The impartiality of juries in highly visible cases involving public figures is not a new problem for the courts. For example, a few weeks ago, a mistrial was declared in the corruption case of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, whose charges were widely publicized and discussed in New Jersey media outlets for months beforehand.

US courts have developed several mechanisms to root out whether a prospective juror might hold a bias against the defendant, or against key witnesses. In the case of the Menendez trial, jurors were required to fill out a questionnaire detailing where they got their news from, their party affiliation, and whether they had ever visibly supported a candidate by, say, displaying a bumper sticker. Other questionnaires used in trials inquire as to whether prospective jurors have talked about a case to family members or co-workers. In the digital age, potential jurors can also expect to have their social media activity combed through by both defense and and prosecution attorneys.

Nonetheless, the Mueller investigation is different by degree in the juror bias challenge it poses. This is all the more true in our era of fragmented media and “fake news,” where individuals can self-select news sources that reinforce their pre-existing biases, buttressing some convictions devoid of factual content.

There is one other reason these trials will be unique: the fact that President Trump is likely to tweet during the trial. There is every reason to expect this, as Trump has shown little reluctance to use Twitter to comment on judicial proceedings in the past, as in the case of his travel ban.

To prevent the President’s views from tainting those of the jury, the judge could–and probably will–sequester the jury. That tactic was used, famously, during the O.J. Simpson trial. This would require jurors to remain in one location during the trial (normally a hotel), and the judge would bar them from accessing any media that could alter their perceptions, including the newspaper and the television. Without a social media ban, as well, jurors might still access Trump’s tweets–and anything else channeled through Facebook, Twitter, and other accounts.

As former federal judge Richard Howell explained to the Wall Street Journal:

[Each time Mr. Trump comments on the case during the trial] “a jury would have to be examined one-by-one as to whether they heard the remark and whether it has any impact on what they’re doing. It will be a challenging trial.”

Regardless of whether or not sequestration is employed, the full context surrounding any jury selection process relating to the Mueller investigation is exceptional.

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When jurors herd together and when they stand their ground

A new study re-uses some of the data collected for the Jury and Democracy Project, along with original complementary data, to show when juries herd together and when they remain divided. A team of researchers in California, Maryland, and North Carolina (Keith Burghardt, William Rand, and Michelle Girvan) analyzed jury outcomes with a focus on two variables–how long juries took to deliberate and how split they remained in their final judgment. Their findings now appear in a pre-publication article placed the sneaky-titled repository, arXiv. (It’s pronounced “archive.” There’s a “chi” in the middle. Get it? This is the kind of humor that gave rise to the other”Big Bang Theory.”)

The study focused on jury trials that do not require a unanimous verdict–in this case, a set of civil trials in a few states and criminal trials in Oregon, which has the distinction of supermajority decision rules for most types of criminal cases. In a nutshell, when juries strongly leaning toward the plaintiff/prosecution or toward defendant, they deliberate and reach a verdict rather quickly (less than three hours). When jurors’ views of the case are more evenly split, however, it’s much more likely they they will take 4-8 hours to deliberate.

As the authors put it, jurors’ inclination to render a near-unanimous verdict can lead to the quick verdicts, when the majorities start out large. Whether this is truly “herding” can’t be known, given the absence of data on jurors’ pre-deliberation leanings. More definitive is the label of juries as “stubborn” when they end up split, with jurors holding opposing views holding their respective ground.

From a distance, the findings aren’t altogether surprising, and they might be somewhat encouraging. They show that juries operating with supermajority decision rules operate efficiently, by reaching verdicts quickly when one appears clear at the outset. The findings could also be taken as another piece of evidence that only when given a unanimous decision rule do juries feel compelled to move more carefully through their deliberation, as “evidence-driven” rather than “verdict-driven” juries (to use the terminology popularized by Reid Hastie and colleagues’ classic, Inside the Jury).

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Older Americans still find jury service to be an important part of citizenship, younger Americans less so

Written by Ethan Paul, undergraduate student at the Pennsylvania State University

In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2017, 67 percent of American adults said that “serving on a jury is part of what it means to be a good citizen.”

Younger people are less likely to see jury duty as a part of good citizenship

However, this tends to not hold across different demographic groups: younger Americans, minority groups, and those without a college education are all below the average, with the young significantly so:

For example, only half of those ages 18 to 29 say jury service is part of being a good citizen, compared with seven-in-ten or more in older age groups. Blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to see jury duty as a part of good citizenship, as are those with a high school diploma or less when compared with people with at least some college education.

This decline among the young could reflect a decline in the rate at which cases go to trial in the modern court system. For example, in 2016 only 43,697 Americans were selected for federal petit jury duty, down 39% from 71,578 in 2006. Moreover, in 2016, only 2% of the 77,318 federal defendants had their cases decided by a jury, half as much as in 2006. (See the New York Times article, “Trial by Jury, a Hallowed American Rights, is Vanishing.”)

This decline can be seen with civil jury trials, as well. According to the NYU School of Law’s Civil Jury Project, in 1990, there were 4,765 civil trials decided by a jury, whereas in 2015 there were only 1,882, despite a drastic increase in the prevalence of civil lawsuits. In a talk at NYU, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor lamented this decline, saying that jury service in American democracy is “the one responsibility of citizenship…where you’re asked to serve and actually come to a decision on the behalf of the society that we represent.” She views jury service as the “front line of protecting the society and its liberties.” (We wrote more about both Justice Sotomayor’s talk and the Civil Jury Project, which can be found here and here.)

However, these views on jury service among younger Americans are not necessarily evidence of a broader disengagement with the political system, especially after the 2016 election. In a survey conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics in Spring, 2017, the difference between 18-29 year-olds saying that politics is and isn’t “relevant to my life right now” was 31%–up from only 17% in 2012. A third also disagreed with the statement, “Political involvement rarely has any tangible results”–a result higher than the 27% expressing a similar view in 2012.

Moreover, 74% and 53% of 18-29 year-olds also say that “voting” and “talking about important issues,” respectively, are one of the “top three most effective ways to produce change in American society.” Their political advocacy is also increasingly occurring online: 40% and 35% of young Democrats and Republicans, respectively, reported signing an online petition.

Nonetheless, younger Americans, as well as older Americans, are growing increasingly distrustful of American democracy more broadly: according to analysis of an AmericasBarometer data by the Washington Post, only 50% of Americans aged 18-25 expressed support for the political system in 2014, down from nearly 70% in 2006.

Smith, Amy - Democracy fig 2

Younger Americans also view political debate as increasingly uncivil and have become less tolerant. According to a 2016 poll conducted by the Harvard IOP, nearly two-thirds (62%) of 18-29 year-olds believe the level of civility in American politics over the last five years has declined. According to AmericasBarometer, from 2006 to 2014, the amount expressing support for political tolerance declined from roughly 80% to just over 60%.


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