American Jury System: Reexamination and Change

September 13, 1972

Report Outline
Era of change in criminal justice
Evolvement of the U.S. Jury System
Continuing Problem of Jury Makeup
Special Focus

Era of change in criminal justice

Approaching State Action on Jury Size Verdicts

Deeply rooted in the American concept of freedom under law is the role of government as protector of the individual citizen—protector against abuse of power by officials of the government, and against harm from lawbreaking individuals. At the heart of the concept is the system of justice, epitomized by the trial before a jury of one's peers. Today, the jury system is in a period of reexamination and change.

Congress acted in 1968 to require the inclusion of minority races, particularly Negroes, in the jury selection process. The Supreme Court ruled in 1970 that juries of fewer than 12 persons could hear state criminal cases, and on May 22, 1972, it upheld non-unanimous verdicts that had been obtained against defendants in state criminal courts. When the Supreme Court ruled, only 14 states allowed juries of smaller size and only two, Louisiana and Oregon, allowed non-unanimous verdicts in felony cases. Now it is a question for the individual states to decide whether they will retain existing jury requirements or change them.

The non-unanimous rule has become subject to controversy in legal circles as a “law and order” decision obtained largely through President Nixon's appointees to the Supreme Court. It has been defended and denounced as a way of making convictions easier to obtain in criminal cases. And it has entered the political arena. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called on NAACP branches at its 1972 convention in July to lobby in the legislatures against state adoption of split verdicts.

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
Civil Rights: African Americans