WE, THE JURY by Jeffrey Abramson


The Jury System and the Ideal of Democracy
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 An eloquent and persuasive study of how the American jury system has degenerated since colonial times and what can be done to restore it. ``Jurors are forever smarter than assumed by lawyers working from manuals,'' writes Abramson (Politics/Brandeis; The Electronic Commonwealth, 1988), and he should know; he was a prosecutor in a DA's office. When he argues, for example, that juries should be empowered to vote their consciences even if that means nullifying the law as the judge explains it to them, he is writing both as a scholar well versed in jury practice at the time of the Founding Fathers and as someone with firsthand exposure to modern juries--a rare combination in a legal historian. Abramson probes the historic debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists over whether juries should be predominantly ``local'' (neighbors who know local customs but are not impartial with respect to the defendant) or predominantly ``impartial.'' Over time the impartial jury won out, but he argues that the notion of impartiality has come to mean both ``empty-minded'' (witness, he says, the selection of jurors in the trials of Oliver North and the Menendez brothers) and ``representational,'' a convocation of society's various subgroups voting according to their inevitable biases. Abramson has nothing against impanelling women or ethnic minorities on juries; on the contrary, he favors the inclusion of subgroups to insure ``enriched deliberations across group lines.'' His distaste for ``mere proportional representation for group differences'' may strike the reader as a philosophical quibble, but he suggests concrete ways to restore the jury to the 18th-century ideal: impanel well-informed citizens; instruct the jury that they may nullify unjust laws; end all peremptory challenges of jurors based on minority status; insist on unanimous verdicts (which state verdicts do not currently need to be). However, Abramson is also realistic: He knows that juries are incapable of handing down color-blind death sentences and finds that ``intolerable.'' Brilliant, accessible scholarship that perfectly complements Stephen J. Adler's recent, anecdotal The Jury (p. 893).

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1994
ISBN: 0-465-03698-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994