Williamsburg, Va. (April 29, 2010) — Most Americans’ knowledge of and experience with the justice system comes in the form of jury service. Each year, nearly 32 million people are randomly selected and summonsed to serve as jurors in the more than 150,000 jury trials that take place in state and federal courts — 149,000 in state courts and 5,000 in federal courts. About 1.5 million of those summonsed will ultimately be sworn in as trial jurors.
To recognize the important role jurors play in our society, many states have declared the first week of May as National Juror Appreciation Week and hold activities in conjunction with Law Day, which is May 1.
Some of the most recent and significant jury innovations include:
Allowing jurors to take notes — Many jurors today are provided paper and pen with which to take notes during the trial. The notes are secured during breaks by a bailiff, but the jurors may use them during deliberations. Following the trial, the notes are collected and destroyed.
Allowing jurors to ask questions during trials — Jurors are allowed to submit written questions to be asked of witnesses. The judge and the parties involved review the questions and as long as the question is not asking for evidence that has been excluded by law or the court, it’s allowed.
Allowing jurors to discuss evidence before deliberations — Traditionally, jurors were instructed to avoid discussing the case prior to hearing all of the evidence. This innovation allows jurors to make use of downtime during the trial to discuss witness testimony closer to time they hear it.
Providing jurors preliminary substantive instructions — It is believed that jurors are more able to organize their thoughts if they are told the elements of a civil cause of action or a criminal charge prior to hearing the evidence. This innovation seeks to instruct jurors on the elements of the case so they may listen for evidence that supports or refutes each element.
Providing jurors with a copy of the court’s instructions — Following the presentation of evidence and the arguments of counsel, the court instructs the jury on the elements of the case, the standard of the evidence, and the jury’s responsibilities. Even in the simplest of cases, this instruction can take one hour. This innovation allows jurors to have one or more written copies of the instructions for reference during their deliberations.
In April 2007, the National Center published the results of the State-of-the-States Survey of Jury Improvement Efforts, a component of which was the Judge and Lawyer Survey. This was the first known study to document on a national basis the extent to which judges employ various practices and procedures during voir dire, trial, and jury deliberations. The following table provides an overview on trial innovations regarding juries in both state and federal courts.
Juror note taking
Jurors could take notes
Jurors given paper for notes
Jurors given notebooks
Allowed juror questions during trials
Could discuss evidence before deliberations
Juror instruction methods
Preinstructed on substantive law
Instructed before closing arguments
Given guidance on deliberations
At least one copy of written instructions provided
All jurors received copy of written instructions
The NCSC Backgrounder is designed to provide the media with statistics and facts related to current issues of interest.
The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.