Are Jury Trials Headed Toward Extinction? Not Really. But the Numbers Aren’t Good.

Interesting recent article in the New York Times on the declining number of jury trials both criminal and civil in our judicial system. The article begins with a trial judge in the Federal District Court in Manhattan recalling only one criminal trial in the four-plus years he’s been on the bench. That’s a sobering number when you consider the size of the district in which Judge Jesse M. Furman sits.

While the decline in jury trial appears to be a national phenomenon and the topic of discussion for lawyers in various trade journals and the bench in judicial opinions — the focus of the article is on two federal courthouses in Manhattan and third in White Plains, New York.

According to the article by Benjamin Weiser, “Legal experts attribute the decline primarily to the advent of the congressional sentencing guidelines and the increased use of mandatory minimum sentences, which transferred power to prosecutors and discouraged defendants from going to trial, where, if convicted, they might face harsher sentences.”

The numbers don’t lie, in the article we read, “In 1997, according to federal courts data nationwide, 3,200 of 63,000 federal defendant’s were convicted in jury trials, in 2015, there were only 1,650 jury convictions out of 81,000 defendants.”

Another fascinating aspect of the article was not about judges and lawyers but rather those who are a part of the judicial ecosystem.  For example, a court stenographer who’s income is primarily derived from transcription services but has not transcribed a trial since November 2015.  According to the article, she could not afford to send her children to camp this summer.

To read the article in in entirety including opinions from criminal defense attorneys and judges, please click on the following link.