Seeing is Believing: The Impact of Jury Service on Attitudes Toward Legal Institutions and the Implications for International Jury Reform
Court Review 48 (2012): 124-130
8 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2014 Last revised: 11 Feb 2015
Date Written: September 11, 2014
The United States jury system is unique in the world in the frequency of its use and its symbolic significance as a democratic institution. As Neil Vidmar writes, the American jury “remains a strong and vibrant institution even as it suffers criticism and calls for reform.” If the jury is “the lamp that shows that freedom lives,” it is ironic that so little is known about what impact the jury system as a democratic institution has on the citizenry who serve as jurors.
Improving our understanding of the jury’s impact is vital, as many nations may choose to adopt or reject the jury based partly on beliefs about how jury service shapes the civic beliefs and actions of citizen-jurors. In particular, legal scholars Kent Anderson and Mark Nolan point out that the proponents of Japan’s new “quasi-jury” system marshaled two arguments in favor of greater public participation in the Japanese legal system — better and equitable legal outcomes and “the belief that it promotes a more democratic society.”
Do juries, in fact, have such impacts? One theoretical justification for believing juries can help to sustain democracy comes from the work of small-group-communication scholar Ernest Bormann. His Symbolic Convergence Theory has helped to demonstrate that repeated, salient cultural practices can establish habitual ways of communicating in groups. As Bormann explains, successions of otherwise unremarkable public and educational group meetings, along with instruction about effective group behavior, over the course of decades gradually built the “public-discussion model” that emerged in the United States in the 20th century (and persists to this day). For nearly a century, that cultural model has shaped how people talk and think about group problem solving in the U.S.
In a similar way, the cultural-institutional legacy of jury service may be public confidence in jury deliberation itself, as well as in the judges who oversee the process. Thus, we theorize that jury service promotes public support for the larger legal process in which citizens participate as jurors. If true, this finding would have tremendous significance for other nations — including Japan, Taiwan, and Mexico — that are considering implementing the all-citizen jury system, because the reforms they implement could be expected to bolster public faith and confidence in the legal system itself.
Keywords: Jury, Legal Reform, Cross-National Research
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