Reinvigorating the Jury
I wanted to use my first post to discuss a subject near and dear to my heart: the 6th Amendment jury right. As evidenced by today’s posts by Scott Moss and Dave Hoffman, juries have been front and center lately. And when we think about famous criminal cases from the past, we always go to the sturm und drung of Sacco & Venzetti, Alger Hiss, O.J. and Enron–our national psyche writ large on the courthouse steps.
Putting such highly publicized trials aside, however, what role do juries really play in our current criminal justice system ? If roughly 93-96% of all felonies in state and federal systems are resolved through guilty pleas rather than trials, are juries just antiquated relics of a bygone era? Or has the Supreme Court’s recent sentencing jurisprudence reinvigorated the 6th Amendment jury right–what’s been called the Blakely revolution?
I don’t think there are any easy answers to this. I’m deeply disturbed by the way our criminal justice system relies on an inherently coercive tool to better “dispose” of criminal offenders. But as a former appellate public defender, I understand why we need such a tool to manage the flood of criminal indictments that swamp our courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys each year.
If anyone has any easy solutions, I’d love to hear them! If not, I’ll be exploring this particular conundrum for the next few weeks, focusing on issues of sentencing, plea bargains, and bench trials. And if you’re particularly lucky, I’ll throw in some tips gleaned from my former clients on the mean streets of New York….
Finally, thanks to Dan Solove and Dan Filler for their kind introduction and invitation to guest-blog.