Trial by Jury: Defects and Proposed Remedies

October 23, 1929

Report Outline
Historical Antecedents of Trialjy Jury
Criticism and Defense of the Jury System
Proposed Reforms in Trial by Jury
Suggested Substitutes Fpr Trial by Jury

The administration of justice in the United States has been subjected during recent years to increasingly severe criticism. Much of this criticism has been directed at one of the stages in the judicial process: trial by jury. The merits of jury trial as at present constituted have been debated mildly in legal periodicals over a long period of years and more vigorously in colleges and in the press during the last two years. Plainly the time has arrived, in the opinion of Professor John H. Wigmore, dean of the Northwestern University law school, when jury trial is to become one of the leading issues in the general movement for a revision of judicial institutions.

Within the last two years numerous articles on the jury system have appeared in lay magazines, and the journals of the American Judicature Society and the American Bar Association have published criticisms and defenses of trial by jury. Many reasons for the popular dissatisfaction with the administration of justice have been cited in the discussion. Among the causes most frequently mentioned is “the general popular assumption that the administration of justice is an easy task for which any one is competent,” The popular lack of interest in justice, “which makes jury service a bore and the vindication of right and law secondary to the trouble and expense involved,” has been cited as another leading cause.

Current Criticism of the Jury System

Public opinion has been roused during the last two years, and public discussion stimulated, by the jury verdicts in the Remus case, the Fall-Sinclair-Doheny conspiracy cases, and the recent Barcoski case. In the last case three coal and iron policemen who had inflicted fatal injuries upon John Barcoski, a miner, in a scuffle at Santiago, Pa., were acquitted of murder by a jury on September 28, 1929. The verdict brought vigorous protests from the prosecutor and the press. The district attorney who tried the case said: “This is the most shocking miscarriage of justice in the history of this or any other country.” The mistrial last month of the Gastonia case because of the sudden insanity of one of the jurors attracted wide public attention, and the nature of the case itself led to expressions of doubt in the press whether outsiders could obtain fair trials where local passions were aroused.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Jury System
Nov. 10, 1995  The Jury System
Nov. 07, 1973  Grand Juries
Sep. 13, 1972  American Jury System: Reexamination and Change
Feb. 09, 1966  Fair Trial by Jury
Dec. 14, 1955  Jury System
Oct. 23, 1929  Trial by Jury: Defects and Proposed Remedies