Inside the Black Box: Comment on Diamond and Vidmar
16 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2003
It is an honor to be invited to comment on the first publication of the Arizona Jury Project, a study of Arizona juries that includes videotaping and analysis of jury room discussions and deliberations. It is a remarkable and unique project, made possible by an unusual confluence of people, places, and events. In an insightful opinion some years ago, United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed that "[i]t is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." The state of Arizona has taken just such a bold path in experimenting with its jury system.
Guided by the leadership of its judiciary and enabled by the openness of its legal practitioners, Arizona has been at the fore-front of jury reform. An Arizona Supreme Court committee headed by Judge B. Michael Dann published an influential report in 1994, Jurors: The Power of 12, proposing a host of changes to the state's jury system. Most of these recommended changes were adopted. What is more, the judiciary and state bar have welcomed social scientific research on how these changes affect the jury system, providing the country with a living laboratory for jury reform.
The scientific merit of the Arizona Jury Project was enhanced by the readiness of two of the nation's top sociolegal scholars, Professors Shari Seidman Diamond and Neil Vidmar, to serve as research directors. These two scholars have long inspired me with their zest for social science study of the law. This enthusiasm, coupled with the high quality of their research and writing, has led to many impressive research contributions. The Arizona Jury Project promises to be another major achievement for both of these scholars and a significant milestone in the study of the American jury.
Many benefits are sure to come from looking inside the black box of jury decisionmaking. By examining what goes on in the jury room in a systematic way, Diamond and Vidmar will help us to assess whether current theories and empirical conclusions about juror and jury decisionmaking, based on indirect research methods, apply to actual jury decisions. They can help us determine whether legal rules, such as the evidence rules they examine in their paper in this symposium, adequately guide the jury process. They can assess how jury reform works in Arizona and thus provide significant information to policymakers contemplating change.
In this article, I will explore the potential contributions of the Arizona Jury Project. After a discussion of the project's design and the unique methodological challenges faced by the researchers, I will assess their observations about how jurors deal with the forbidden topic of insurance. I will then consider their suggested reform, and the collaborative instructional approach they advocate.
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