The Disappearing Jury Trial and Its Affect on the American Legal System

If you asked the average citizen to picture a day in the life of an attorney, you would presumably be bombarded with anecdotes of a person arguing inside of a courtroom. Dramatic courtroom scenes might spring to mind, reminiscent of scenes in classic plays such as “Twelve Angry Men” and “Chicago.” Though these movies and the average person’s understanding of an attorney’s work often skirt over the pretrial drudgery, they appear to capture the essence of the courtroom experience. The courtroom, much like the theater, consists of a live interplay between actors and audience. The audience, or jury in this context, receives a participatory role where they must decide how the show will end. While many might dread the sight of a jury duty notice in their mailbox, jury trials were and remain essential to the American legal system. As the founders of the nation envisioned, the jury was intended to provide unbiased, independent deliberative body that would stand up to unjust power.

Much like theater attendance, however, the number of jury trials is down. Though an essential feature of our legal system, courts throughout the country, especially federal courts, have seen a significant decline in jury trials across all areas of law. Below is an examination of the processes often undertaken to dismiss cases before trial, and the lasting effects that a decline in jury trials may have on the American legal system at large.