St. Mary's Law Journal


Jury participation is helpful in many respects. It fosters an understanding of the third branch of government and the workings of the judicial system. It offers the opportunity for individuals to serve in a unique role: neutral factfinder. Moreover, in an age of declining voter participation, jury service provides individuals with the opportunity to directly participate in our governmental structure. Despite these positive attributes, jury trials as we knew them are on the decline. That may or may not be problematic, depending on what types of cases are being impacted. Where parties have reached a voluntary and informed settlement on cases involving personal injury or property damage, the decline of jury trials in these cases may be of less consequence. If civil jury trials are declining in cases addressing rights of assembly, free speech and expression, and denial of due process, that may be troubling. The percentage of federal civil cases currently disposed of by a judgment at trial is about 1.2%. The percentage of jury trials in the state courts is similar. If we value an open and transparent judicial system that provides for the participation of ordinary citizens in the process of adjudication, reform of our current litigation system is critical. If voluntary mediations settle cases after informed decisions are made, why is this not a form of collaborative justice that is touted and praised in many legal circles? If cases are not being tried because of the costs and delays attended in getting a case to a jury, then procedural reform of our system is imperative.


St. Mary's University School of Law