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THE JURY by Stephen J. Adler


The Ideal and the Reality of an American Institution

by Stephen J. Adler

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8129-2363-4
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

A glaring indictment of America's jury system, by the Wall Street Journal's legal editor. Reconstructing jury deliberations in six recent trials, civil and criminal, Adler illustrates how far modern juries deviate from the ideal of 12 citizens meting out justice. He reveals how lawyers use peremptory challenges to exclude the most educated and analytic people from jury service, opting instead for the ignorant, the malleable, the demographically correct. (He reports that one famous defense lawyer likes to stack the jury with fat people, who presumably lack self-control and won't demand it of the defendant.) He shows how the savviest lawyers employ market-research techniques, using focus groups whose responses, during mock trials, dictate the actual presentation in court. And Adler tells what transpired in the jury rooms, as mostly blue collar, mostly befuddled citizens were asked to determine whether a tobacco company violated the impossibly abstruse antitrust Robinson-Patman Act, and whether a byzantine flow chart linked Imelda Marcos to secret bank accounts in the US. Through no fault of their own, he concedes, jurors are guilty of ``missing key points, focusing on irrelevant issues, succumbing to barely recognized prejudices, failing to see through the cheapest appeals to sympathy or hate, and generally botching the job.'' Adler's verdict: The jury system is a wreck but salvageable—if the judiciary eliminates peremptory challenges, translates the standard legalistic jury instructions into plain English, permits jurors to ask questions and take notes, and provides ``reasonable creature comfort'' so that fewer people will seek exclusion from jury service. Adler is condescending toward the jurors he has interviewed, but his case against the system is strong, his writing is snappy, and his solutions are promising. A highly readable exposÇ coupled to a provoking argument. (Author tour)