Criminal Case Complexity: An Empirical Perspective

Posted: 4 Feb 2004

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 2004


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, judges, and attorneys. This Article explores both questions from an empirical perspective with the benefit of recent data from four jurisdictions. The data are important as, 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 reform efforts. No clear consensus exists on complexity perceptions. Many of the variables that influence case complexity fall outside of reformers' reach. Variables that policy can manipulate are inefficacious.

Keywords: Empirical, case complexity, criminal, jury, judge, jury reform

Suggested Citation

Heise, Michael, Criminal Case Complexity: An Empirical Perspective (January 2004). Available at SSRN:

Michael Heise (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

308 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-0069 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

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