The American Trial Jury: Current Issues and Controversies


John Paul Ryan

At the turn of the last millennium in 1000 A.D., when the secular and religious realms of Western society were not clearly separated, the seed of our jury system had not yet been planted. Most accusations of criminal wrongdoing in England, where juries would first surface in the 13th century, led to trial by ordeal with the outcome believed to represent divine intervention. Civil disputes—for example, about property—were resolved by battle or, on occasion, by the statements of friends and relatives.1

As the year 2000 approaches, jury trials are available in the United States to all criminal defendants facing the possibility of incarceration, and to litigants in most civil cases except family disputes. Ironically, the jury has “withered” in England, where Parliament has abolished juries in most types of civil cases and restricted their availability in lesser criminal offenses.2

Americans today value the many positive virtues of our jury system. The jury helps to sustain democratic values. The jury is a key part of the due process protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The jury is the guardian of the public trust and the voice of the community’s values inside a legal system dominated by lawyers and judges.

Yet we also hear many criticisms about juries in practice. Juries are biased. Juries disregard the judge’s instructions or the law itself when reaching a verdict. Juries know too much about a case from media publicity to be able to render a fair judgment, or juries know too little and are unable to comprehend the issues in complex cases. Finally, too many Americans shrink from their civic duty by seeking to avoid jury service.

This article looks at some of the issues and controversies involving our jury system as it presently operates. It attempts to measure progress in the jury as a democratic institution against critiques as to ways in which the system falls short and could be improved.


Jury Selection: Representation and Fairness

In the 20th century, the jury pool from which actual jurors are recruited and selected has become increasingly more representative of the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of America. This has not happened easily, however. It has been the result of three constitutional amendments (the 19th, women’s suffrage; the 24th, abolition of the poll tax; and the 26th, the 18-year-old vote); the Voting Rights Act of 1964 (eliminating the literacy test for voting), and subsequent lawsuits challenging various practices of jury selection. It has resulted also from the elimination of certain statutory exemptions for service and the use of driver’s license, welfare, and other databanks to supplement voter registration lists. Accordingly, juries today more closely resemble the many faces of America. Whereas women rarely served on juries in the early part of the century, now women often outnumber men on juries. More slowly, African Americans and other people of color have gained entry to the jury pool and the jury box in the courtroom.

Nevertheless, controversies abound. High-profile criminal trials have created the impression that jury selection is unduly long and manipulated by attorneys seeking to pick “friendly” jurors. In ordinary cases, prosecutors are sometimes accused of using peremptory challenges to exclude African Americans from juries, a practice that the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional in Batson v. Kentucky in 1986 (see “Key Jury Decisions of the U. S. Supreme Court,” p. 463).


Juries and Pretrial Publicity

Unlike in the Middle Ages (see “The Citizen’s Jury,” pp. 462-63), we now seek jurors who know nothing about the particular case or the parties involved. Today, we believe that only jurors who know nothing (or very little) about a case will be able to render a fair verdict. Finding such jurors is easy to accomplish in most routine cases; for example, the voir dire process helps to identify and exclude prospective jurors who know, or are related to, the parties, or who know about the facts of the case.

Yet in high-profile cases, where there has been extensive media coverage nationally or in a particular community, finding “disinterested” jurors may be quite difficult. If the media coverage is mostly local or regional, a change of venue (moving the trial from one county to another) may remedy the problem. If the case is nationally prominent, however, as in a mass or serial murder case, a very lengthy voir dire may indeed be required to find 12 jurors who say they have not yet formed an opinion as to the defendant’s guilt.

Concern for the prejudicial effects of pretrial news coverage has surfaced periodically throughout the 20th century. The early days of television produced some examples of particularly outlandish coverage. “The virulent and incriminating publicity … made the case notorious, and the news media frequently aired charges and countercharges …,” wrote Justice Tom Clark in 1966 in Sheppard v. Maxwell, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that set a new standard for determining the prejudicial effects of media coverage both before and during a trial (see “Key Jury Decisions”).


How ‘Active’ Should Juries Be?

Traditionally, juries have been expected to listen to the arguments and evidence presented during the course of a trial. As witness testimony, attorney arguments, and trials have become longer and more complex, however, a variety of measures designed to enhance the performance of juries have been debated and often enacted.

Currently, all states permit jurors to take notes during trials. In a growing number of states, jurors may submit to the judge questions for witnesses, which the judge may ask at her or his discretion. In many states, jurors are provided notebooks of trial exhibits and/or written copies of the judge’s instructions. In Arizona and local jurisdictions in a few other states, jurors in civil cases are permitted to discuss the evidence as the case progresses, prior to deliberations.3 Most of these measures require jurors to be more active and engaged “listeners” during the trial. Preliminary studies of the impact of these reforms indicate improved jury decision making. Yet practices vary considerably among the states, and there is no universal consensus about how “active” juries should be.


Jury Nullification

In reaching verdicts, juries are required to determine the facts and “follow the law,” as trial judges formally instruct them to do. Yet today, as in the past, juries are sometimes accused of following their own wills rather than applying the law to the facts of the case in question—a practice referred to as “jury nullification.” Jury nullification is not new, as Hans and Vidmar remind us: juries nullified England’s 18th and 19th century “Bloody Code,” which allowed commoners to be put to death for stealing bread; America’s Fugitive Slave Laws of 1850, under which abolitionists were convicted for aiding slaves to escape; and the prohibition laws of the 1920s.4

More recently, juries have targeted the behaviors of police and other criminal justice system actors. For example, observers have noted that in the murder trial of O. J. Simpson and the drug trial of Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry, juries may have used their power of the verdict to send a message to the police rather than to punish the accused.

Race-based jury nullification is particularly controversial. Should African American jurors vote to acquit defendants charged, say, in drug cases if they believe that enforcement and prosecution of drug possession laws might be much more severe for blacks than whites? Most legal scholars say no, yet some African American legal scholars, such as Paul Butler of George Washington University, suggest that jurors should not support unjust laws today, just as they sometimes refused to do in times past.

In a landmark empirical study in 1966, Kalven and Zeisel found that judges and juries in criminal cases usually agreed on what the verdict should be.5 Yet in the 20 percent or so of cases where they disagreed, juries were much more likely to acquit than the judge would have been. Whether this finding would still be valid today, given the higher violent crime rate and the propensity of more serious cases to go to trial, we do not know. Juries are expected to follow the law, yet also to do justice by incorporating the values of the community and their own personal experience.


Juror Privacy

Because of the contemporary media spotlight on high-profile trials, there is a heightened anxiety among some jurors about their lives after the trial, including fears of disruption and threats to their safety and well-being. There is also increasing concern that jurors will speak to the press not only after, but even during, a trial. In response, some judges have promised and granted anonymity to prospective jurors. For example, the identity of jurors was shielded in the trials of Theodore Kaczynski (the “Unabomber”), Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City federal courthouse bombing), followers of Waco cult leader David Koresh, and the Los Angeles police officers accused of beating Rodney King.

Yet free-speech advocates, including media organizations, argue that such practices undermine the well-established Sixth Amendment principle that trials should be public. They worry that juries that decide their fellow citizens’ fates while cloaked in privacy (secrecy) will not be accountable for their verdicts or will render verdicts differently. Criminal defense attorneys, for example, have charged that anonymous juries are more likely to convict defendants, a charge supported by the findings of jury simulation research.6

Furthermore, some critics see juror anonymity as the first step toward a closed courtroom. Will the identity of witnesses be routinely shielded, as they already are in trials involving organized crime? In the future, will judges seeking to maintain order, recruit jurors, and finish trials close courtrooms more often? These difficult issues about the operation of the legal system are not easily resolved, nor are they entirely new. For example, the news media publicized the names and telephone numbers of the jurors in the Sam Sheppard murder case in the 1950s while also encouraging local citizens to call the jurors to voice their opinions during a trial in which the jury was not sequestered.


Jury Service: A Civic Dilemma

Jury service is one of the elements of civic participation about which Americans have shown ambivalence. The slow yet cumulatively successful inclusion of women and people of color on juries tells only one story about the jury in 20th century America.

A different, and contrary, story is the unwillingness of many to serve on juries. Recent studies have found that in urban jurisdictions, 20 percent or more of the citizenry who receive jury summons fail to report to the courthouse for potential service. There may be a variety of personal and occupation-related reasons for this. Jurors are typically paid a small amount by the courts, may serve on lengthy trials lasting weeks or even months, and on rare occasions may be sequestered, that is, removed to a hotel away from their families and community during the trial and deliberations.

Many occupations, including professionals and small business owners, are often granted automatic exemptions from service, either by state statute or in practice. Many businesses discourage their employees from serving on juries. A recent study found that more than 50 percent of employees earning under $40,000 annually would not be paid their wages during jury service.7 Where this happens, the result may be a disproportionate number of retired people, young people, and the unemployed serving on juries. A further wrinkle on civic participation is that some people fail to register to vote solely in order to avoid jury service; however, this is less likely to be successful given the expanded source lists used to develop jury pools.

Reforms have sought to address these and other problems so as to promote a more positive image of jury service and encourage more widespread participation. Many jurisdictions have adopted a “one day/one tria#148; system for jury service, in which jurors who are not selected for a trial on the first day of their appearance at the courthouse are dismissed. Some states, including New York in 1995, have adopted legislation that increases juror compensation and reduces the likelihood of jury sequestration. New York also eliminated many automatic exemptions, thereby seeking to reduce the burdens and increase the experience of service among a much wider number and range of people (New York City Mayor Rudolph Guliani recently served as foreperson of a jury in a civil case).

Recent surveys of Americans’ perceptions of the legal system indicate continuing support for, and confidence in, the jury system.8 Nevertheless, as we enter a new century filled with cultural and technological changes, we are bound to encounter a variety of unanticipated obstacles to the success of the American jury. We will need to be both vigilant and inventive in resolving these issues so as to ensure the continued viability of “the citizen’s jury.”



1. Valerie P. Hans and Neil Vidmar, Judging the Jury (New York: Plenum Press, 1986), 21-26.

2. James J. Gobert, “Trial by Jury,” in Kermit L. Hall, ed., The Oxford Compantion to the Supreme Court of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

3. Paula L. Hannaford and G. Thomas Munsterman, “Beyond Note-taking: Innovations in Jury Reform,” Trial (July 1997): 48-53.

4. Hans and Vidmar, 149.

5. Harry Kalven and Hans Zeisel, The American Jury (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966).

6. D. Lynn Hazelwood and John C. Brigham, “The Effects of Juror Anonymity on Jury Verdicts,” Law & Human Behavior 22, No. 6 (1998): 695-713.

7. Robert G. Boatright, “Why Citizens Don’t Respond to Jury Summonses and What Courts Can Do About It,” Judicature 82, No. 4 (Jan,-Feb. 1999): 156-164.

8. American Bar Association, Perceptions of the U.S. Justice System (Chicago: ABA, 1999).


John Paul Ryan is director of school programs for the ABA Division for Public Education.

The Citizen’s Jury 

Hannah Leiterman

The jury of one’s peers is a cornerstone of the principle of democratic representation set out in the U.S. Constitution. It offers U.S. citizens both a vehicle to shape our government as jurors and protection to us as the accused. In Duncan v. Louisiana, the 1968 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case extending the right to trial by jury from the federal Bill of Rights to the states, Justice Byron White wrote that “providing an accused with the right to be tried by a jury of his peers gave him an inestimable safeguard against the corrupt or overzealous prosecutor and against the compliant, biased, or eccentric judge.”

Over time, the Supreme Court has helped to ensure that the jury is both fair and representative by outlawing the practice of excluding nonwhites and women from jury service, limiting the powers of lawyers to exclude individuals from juries during the process of voir dire, and expanding the safeguards against outside influences on the jury. By looking at the administration of justice before the advent ot the jury system, the early history of juries, and the evolution of the modern jury in the United States, one sees the key role of the jury in ensuring fairness and public confidence in the justice system.


The Roots of the Jury in England

The earliest forms of the jury system in England scarcely resemble the modern jury of one’s peers. In the 12th and 13th centuries, civil and criminal disputes were commonly settled by battles or ordeals (for example, requiring the accused to dip his hand in boiling water to see if it became infected) under the assumption that God would intervene on behalf of the right or innocent party. By the time Pope Innocent III forbade priestly involvement in ordeals—thus taking away their holy sanction—in 1215, a jury system was loosely in place in Norman England. In this system, the king’s court chose twelve persons to testify as to what they knew about the facts of a case or the character of the parties involved.

Over the following centuries, the role of the jury shifted, as jurors gradually took on the role of witnesses in a “presenting” jury and then offered a final verdict of guilty or not guilty. The inherent conflict in these two roles encouraged the English Parliament in 1352 to pass a statute allowing jurors ruling on guilt versus innocence to be excluded if they had presented evidence. Eventually, as witnesses were brought in to testify, jurors were not expected to know the facts of the case, but rather, to determine them.

The Jury in Colonial America

In colonial America, the jury became a vehicle for the colonists to assert new ideas and principles, particularly in cases of conflict with the Crown.1 The 1732 trial of John Zenger, a newspaper printer accused of publishing articles critical of the king, provided an early forum to debate the proper role of the jury. In that case, the jury was asked only to determine whether Zenger had in fact printed the newspaper in question; a judge sympathetic to the king would then decide whether he was guilty of sedition. Acting on Zenger’s behalf, Andrew Hamilton argued that the issues in the case involved an “intertwining of law and fact,”and argued more generally for an expanded role of the jury: “Jurymen are to see with their own eyes, to hear with their own ears, and to make use of their own consciences and understandings, in judging the lives, liberties, or estates of their fellow subjects.”2

In the following decades, the role of the jury and the jury selection process came to the forefront of public discussion, and several states passed legislation dealing with jury selection in order to thwart British attempts to stack juries with loyalists. After the American Revolution, juries were seen as having even greater importance. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “were I called upon to decide, whether the people had best be omitted in the legislative or judiciary department, I would say it is better to leave them out of the legislative. The execution of the laws is more important than the making of them.”


The Modern Jury

Today’s jury system is very much the product of the social change that has followed the writing of the Constitution, the development of state and local laws, and Supreme Court decisions that sought to provide the Bill of Rights protections to everyone (see “Key Jury Decisions of the U. S. Supreme Court ”). There are two forms of the modern jury, each with a distinct purpose. The grand jury assesses evidence in criminal cases and issues a decision as to whether the prosecution may indict an individual, while the petit (trial) jury decides guilt in criminal cases or liability and monetary damages in civil cases.

The grand jury does not exist in every state; in fact, only 14 states require grand juries to issue indictments for all criminal prosecutions. Grand juries listen to evidence for criminal cases only. They are composed of between 6 and 23 jurors, hence the name grand from the French, and serve for a period of time (often several months), potentially hearing many cases. The jurors don’t have to agree unanimously for the prosecutor to issue an indictment. In many states a two-thirds or three-fourths majority is required, while in some states as few as 12 of 23 jurors may prosecute.

Trial, or petit, juries (also from the French) are smaller—usually 12 people based on the English model, though the number of jurors varies by state. In criminal cases, they must reach guilty verdicts unanimously, yet in more than a third of the states, only a large majority (typically 2/3 or 3/4) is needed to render a verdict in civil and minor criminal cases (for exceptions, see “Key Jury Decisions”). If the jurors cannot agree on a verdict, a hung jury occurs and a new trial may be held or the case dismissed.

The venire, or list of potential jurors in a community, is generally taken from driver’s license and/or voter registration lists. The only people ineligible to serve on juries are the mentally ill and noncitizens. In many states, however, individuals with jobs deemed important to society (teachers or doctors, for example), those whose jobs would be put in jeopardy by a long absence (small business owners, for example), and non-English speakers are excused from jury service, either by statute or practice.

In the U.S. jury system, jurors undergo a pre-selection voir dire (meaning “to speak the truth”) process in which the lawyers for both sides and/or the judge question potential jurors to determine whether they might be biased. Both defense and prosecution can dismiss jurors for cause by establishing some reason why the juror might be prejudiced. Both sides also have a fixed number (set by statute) of peremptory challenges, or dismissals the lawyer can make without providing a reason, though peremptory challenges cannot be used to exclude jurors because of their race or gender (see ”Key Jury Decisions”).

Once the jury members have listened to all of the trial evidence, the judge gives the jury instructions as to the relevant law in the case, and reminds them that they must adhere to what the law is rather than what they think it ought to be (but see also the discussion of “Jury Nullification” in the accompanying article). This is known as the judge’s charge to the jury.

The jurors elect a foreperson or presiding juror from among them to lead deliberations and announce their verdict, and the court provides the jury with written forms of all possible verdicts for the case. Juries generally decide criminal sentences only in death penalty cases. In civil cases, if one side feels that the jury hasn’t interpreted the facts or applied the law correctly, it can make a motion for judgment notwithstanding the jury, in which the judge issues a verdict in place of the jury. After the verdict is given, the jurors are paid a daily stipend for their service and dismissed.



Though today juries are used in only about 5 percent of all criminal and civil cases, they are as fundamental to justice in the United States now as when Andrew Hamilton argued for an expanded role of the jury in 1732. A jury of one’s peers acts as an important check in cases where a defendant fears that the local justice system may have a prejudice against him, or in corruption cases in which the judiciary itself may be implicated. A jury that includes African Americans will presumably be better able to understand the circumstances of an African American defendant who claims to have been targeted by police, just as a jury that includes women will likely be better able to understand the experience of a woman charged with assault against an abusive husband.

Juries also enable Americans to maintain an active role in their government. Jury service gives individuals first-hand experience with the legal system, which in turn helps generate support for it. After visiting the United States in 1831, Tocqueville remarked in Democracy in America that the American jury system served to “communicate the spirit of the judges to the minds of all citizens” and to educate the citizenry about the law.3



1. Valerie P. Hans and Neil Vidmar, Judging the Jury (New York: Plenum Press, 1986), 32.

2. Ibid., 34.

3. Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Everyman’s Library, 1994), 284.


Hannah Leiterman is an editor in the ABA Division for Public Education.


Key Jury Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court

Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1879). The Court struck down, as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment, a Virginia law limiting jury service to “all white male persons,” although officials in some states engaged in covert discriminatory practices for many years to follow.

Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966). The case of Sam Sheppard, a Cleveland doctor accused of killing his wife, received such widespread pre-trial publicity excoriating Sheppard and proclaiming his guilt that the Court found he did not receive a fair trial and overturned his conviction. For highly publicized trials, the Justices held that trial courts must go to greater lengths to ensure a fair tria#151;for example, by changing the venue, sequestering the jury, and preventing the leaking of leads and gossip to the public—in order to find unbiased jurors and prevent them from being affected by outside opinions. (This case spawned the television series “The Fugitive.”)

Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968). The Court applied the Fourteenth Amendment’s due-process guarantees to the states and overturned Duncan’s conviction. He had been given a 60-day prison sentence for a misdemeanor battery charge without the benefit of a jury trial because the Louisiana Constitution required juries only in capital cases or cases in which imprisonment or hard labor could be imposed.

Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. 356, and Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404 (1972). The Court found that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a jury trial, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, does not require that the jury’s vote be unanimous.

Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 (1975). The Court found “affirmative registration” for women for jury service, a practice by which they were not automatically included on jury lists unless they registered, to be a violation of the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a jury drawn from a cross-section of the community.

Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The Court pronounced peremptory challenges based solely on race to be unconstitutional. In this case against an African American man charged with burglary and receipt of stolen goods, all four black potential jurors were dismissed by the prosecution, and Batson was found guilty. The Supreme Court ruled that this was a violation of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to a jury drawn from a cross-section of the community and equal protection of the law.

Lockhart v. McCree, 476 U.S. 162 (1986). The Court found that excluding potential jurors who are unwilling under any circumstances to impose the death penalty during sentencing does not violate a defendant’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as long as the remaining jurors are drawn from a fair cross-section of the community.


Teaching Activities

1. Interview a parent or some other adult who was called for jury service. Did this person: Serve on a jury? Get dismissed? Ask the person to describe either experience. If the person served: For how long? In what kind of case? What was surprising about the procedures? What did this person learn? Did this person feel he or she was fulfilling an important civic duty by serving?

2. Research the history of women and jury service, looking especially at the Nineteenth Amendment and the 1975 Supreme Court case of Taylor v. Louisiana. Did you know that until 1966, women did not serve on juries in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Dakota, and that women became eligible for jury service in all federal and state courts only in 1972? Write a paper discussing why this might be and why jury service is more inclusive now.

3. Arrange to visit your state or local courthouse at a time when students will be able to watch the voir dire process being conducted. Contact the court administrator or public information officer for scheduling guidance. Alternatively, watch jury selection in a trial on Court TV (schedule and webcasts available at or read the transcripts of jury selection in a famous trial, such as the 1997 trial of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing (available at

4. Arrange for a lawyer or judge to visit the class and conduct a mock voir dire session with students as potential jurors. Contact your state or local bar association’s speaker’s bureau, or your state law-related education coordinator ( for information on how to find and contact lawyers and judges interested in visiting classrooms.

5. View the classic film Twelve Angry Men over several class periods or watch it as homework. Do you think that in real life, one juror could ever be as influential or persuasive as Henry Fonda? Would a deadlocked (hung) jury have been a more likely result? In light of the film, how important is the principle of jury unanimity in criminal cases?

6. Visit the website of the National Constitution Center, which features two lesson plans for teaching about the jury. In “A Comparative Analysis of Jury Systems,” students (grades 11–12) compare the U.S. jury system with the systems in France and Germany and critically analyze the U.S. jury system ( In “Many Are Called, Few Are Chosen: A Jury Selection Simulation,” students (grades 10-12) become familiarized with the jury system and their role in its development. After learning about the history of the jury system, how a citizen becomes a juror, and the jury’s role, students take part in a simulation in which they become potential jurors for a case. (

7. Find out about the structure of the jury system in your state (a good resource is FindLaw’s state resources index at Are grand juries used? In all criminal cases? How many people must agree to issue an indictment? How many people serve on a petit jury? Must they reach a unanimous verdict? What jury reforms would you advocate for your state?

8. Look at the information available about jury duty in your county ( What can jurors expect when they report for jury duty? What must they bring? What must they prepare in advance? What will happen if they do not report? Write a fictional short story about a juror on an interesting local trial.


Teaching Resources


Abramson, Jeffrey. We the Jury: The Jury System and the Ideal of Democracy. New York: Basic Books, 1994. An examination of whether the jury systems works through a look at historical cases that raise such issues as racial bias, jury selection, local justice, and the death penalty.

Adler, Stephen. Jury: Trial and Error in the American Courtroom. New York: Times Books, 1994. A study of jury proceedings in six separate cases that highlights some of the problems with the jury system.

American Bar Association. Perceptions of the U.S. Justice System. Chicago: ABA, 1999 (available at A national survey of the knowledge and perceptions of the justice system among 1,000 adults, conducted in August 1998 by M/A/R/C Research for the ABA.

ABA Division for Public Education. Law & the Courts, Volume II: Court Procedures. Chicago: American Bar Association, 1998. Comprehensive information for the general public on court procedures, including resources and a glossary.

Daniels, Stephen and Joanne Martin. Civil Juries and the Politics of Reform. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1995. An examination of jury decisions in medical malpractice, products liability, and other areas where controversial verdicts have led to calls for reforms of the jury or civil justice system.

Hall, Kermit. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. A reference guide to the U.S. Supreme Court as well as the U.S. judicial system.

Hans, Valerie P. and Neil Vidmar. Judging the Jury. New York: Plenum Press, 1986. A comprehensive history of the American jury system and critical analysis of its efficacy and usefulness.

Kalven, Harry and Hans Zeisel. The American Jury. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966. A landmark empirical study of the rates of agreement and disagreement, and their reasons, between jury verdicts and what the trial judge would have decided absent the jury.

Lehman, Godfrey D. We the Jury: The Impact of Jurors on Our Basic Freedoms: Great Jury Trials of History. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1997. Through a look at classic cases from colonial days through the 20th century, Lehman argues for independent juries and against such modern legal phenomena as jury consultants, the voir dire process, and exclusion of evidence, which have acted to limit jurors’ independence and create a legal system in which Americans have lost faith.

Moller, Erik. Trends in Civil Jury Verdicts since 1985. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Corporation, 1996. A look at jury verdict data from 15 jurisdictions nationwide that finds trends such as which cases are likely to receive highest monetary awards and where in the nation awards are greatest.

“The Role of Race-Based Jury Nullification in American Criminal Justice,” Symposium Issue, John Marshall Law Review 30 (Summer 1997) No. 4: 907–35. Provides competing points of view on the need for, and desirability of, jury nullification by African American jurors in criminal cases.

Rosen, Jeffrey, “One Angry Woman: Why Are Hung Juries on the Rise?” The New Yorker (February 24 and March 3, 1997). A literate essay about jury deliberations and decision-making dynamics, exploring the “holdout” juror, the increase in the number of hung juries, and questions of race. Ideal for classroom use.

Shapiro, Barbara J. Beyond Reasonable Doubt and Probable Cause: Historical Perspectives on the Anglo-American Law of Evidence. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1991. Looks at the origins of these concepts, tracing them back to the law and culture of early modern England.

Vidmar, Neil. Medical Malpractice and the American Jury: Confronting the Myths about Jury Incompetence, Deep Pockets, and Outrageous Damage Awards. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. A look at jury decisions in medical malpractice suits, this book argues that juries actually perform their task quite satisfactorily in such cases.

Wolf, Robert V. and Austin Sarat, eds. The Jury System (Crime, Justice, and Punishment). Broomall, Pa.: Chelsea House Publishers, 1998. A look at the jury system written for children ages 9–12.


Film and Video

Guilty or Not Guilty: You Decide: A Participatory Jury Experience for Students. Washington, D.C.: Council for Court Excellence, 1999. Through a short dramatization of an actual murder trial, this interactive educational video places secondary-school-level and above students on a jury receiving instructions from an actual judge on issues they must consider when deciding the case. A companion teacher’s guide contains background information on the jury system, discussion questions, suggested exercises and readings, and follow-up issues relating to the student’s jury experience. (Order online at

Twelve Angry Men. 1957. A classic film about jury deliberation, starring Henry Fonda and directed by Sidney Lumet, is perhaps the most famous dramatic portrayal of a jury of all time.



ABA Division for Public Education: Grand Juries
Part of a special impeachment website, this page includes FAQ and extensive explanations about grand juries.

American Judicature Society—The Jury
This web page offers materials for increasing public awareness of the importance of jury service, including a video, various booklets and guidebooks, and the results of a survey conducted by the AJS on citizen response to jury service.

The Center for Jury Studies
This organization, part of the National Center for State Courts, maintains a website that features jury news items that include topics such as accommodating jurors with disabilities and free public transportation for jurors, as well as recommended books and reviews.

The Fully Informed Jury Association
Information about jurors’ rights, resources for jurors, state jury power groups, a trial directory, and an order form for spiffy jury power gift items.

Jury Duty Information Web Site: United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Includes a handbook for trial jurors in the U.S. District Courts as well as frequently asked questions about jury duty.

The Jury Rights Project Web Site
This organization “is dedicated to educating citizens about the importance of juries and the rights of jurors,” and its website includes news and information about important jury rights cases and issues, juries history, links to related organizations, and information on becoming involved.

©1999 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.