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The Jury On Trial
Is trial by jury the essential underpinning of our system of justice or—as more and more critics charge—a relic so flawed it should perhaps even be abolished? An experienced trial judge examines the historical evidence in the case.
July/August 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 4
Does this mean that we should eliminate the jury’s role as primary fact finder in our system of justice? The answer, I suppose, depends on what might replace jurors in administering justice. Short of some chance-activated machine, a juryless society would have to depend on one-person arbiters—that is, judges. Speaking from experience and from numerous conversations with siblings of the robe, state and federal, from all across the country, I have some doubt that the tradeoff would be advantageous, and I am certain that the judges themselves would not recommend it. Whatever may be the flaws in trial by jury, and however ill adapted it may be for resolving drawn-out, technical matters, most judges consider a multiheaded determining body superior to a lone referee. Perhaps the jury, to paraphrase what Churchill once said of democracy, is the worst mechanism for trying cases except for any alternative.
When you reduce the problem to its basics, an unideological and astute nonlawyer seems to have had it just right when in the course of analyzing and bemoaning the vagaries of trial by jury recently he said, “Do you think maybe the only thing wrong with juries is that they’re human?”