Over the last few decades, American courts have used fewer and fewer jurors. There are many causes, including increased plea-bargaining, alternative dispute resolution, and reduced jury sizes (down from 12 to as few as 6 jurors per trial). But the most ominous trend is calls for doing away with the jury altogether for certain kinds of cases, particularly complex civil trials.
Another variant is raising the threshold for jury trials. Maryland is voting next week on a constitutional amendment to remove juries from trials where $10K-$15K is on the line. It may seem a trifling change–a cost-of-living adjustment to an old section of their state constitution. But it really is more than that when one considers the civic impact of jury service, something we stress in The Jury and Democracy. The fewer chances there are for everyday citizens to resolve the disputes in their communities, the fewer chances there are for citizens to learn the skills of democracy.
At the very least, we fear that the debate on this amendment in Maryland hasn’t even taken into account the hidden civic cost of rolling back the jury another few feet.