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Criminal Case Complexity: An Empirical Perspective


Michael Heise


Cornell Law School


Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 331-369, July 2004

Abstract:     
Criminal case complexity persists as a central tenet in many academic and public critiques of our legal system even though little is known about two critical questions. One question is whether key actors (juries, attorneys, and judges) view case complexity similarly. In other words, do juries, attorneys, and judges agree on whether a case is complex? A second question involves the determinants of case complexity for each group. That is, what factors make a case more (or less) complex for juries, attorneys, and judges. This Article explores both questions from an empirical perspective with the benefit of recent data from four jurisdictions. The data are important because, within the context of criminal cases, they permit analyses of agreement levels among the three key actors. Results suggest that the three different actors possess slightly different views on whether cases are complex. Judges reported the lowest levels of case complexity; jurors the highest. Moreover, important variation exists in terms of what made cases complex for each group. The results implicate legal reform efforts. No clear consensus exists among the critical actors on complexity perceptions. Many of the variables that influence case complexity fall outside of reformers' reach. Variables within the reach of policy do not appear to systematically reduce case complexity.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 41

Keywords: Criminal, empirical, complexity, reform, jury

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Date posted: June 17, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Heise, Michael, Criminal Case Complexity: An Empirical Perspective. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 331-369, July 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=524362

Contact Information

Michael Heise (Contact Author)
Cornell Law School ( email )
310 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-0069 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)
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