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What happened to trial by jury? - Suja A. Thomas


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In the United States today, juries decide less than 4% of criminal cases and less than 1% of civil cases filed in court. At the same time, jury systems in other countries are growing. So what happened in the US? And could the disappearance of juries be a good thing? Suja A. Thomas explores both sides of this dilemma.

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In the United States Constitution, there are four different jury provisions. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution sets forth that grand juries decide whether cases proceed against people accused of some crimes. Once the grand jury indicts or the case otherwise proceeds against the accused, Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives the jury authority to decide a person’s actual guilt. The Sixth Amendment guarantees that this jury must be impartial. The U.S. Constitution also sets forth that juries decide certain civil cases worth over twenty dollars. Here is more information about specific constitutional provisions and issues regarding the criminal, civil, and grand juries. In addition to the authority in the U.S. Constitution, most states’ constitutions also grant juries authority.

Despite this abundance of federal and state constitutional authority, juries actually very rarely decide most modern criminal and civil matters, and the role of the jury continues to shrink over time. There are several reasons for the jury’s demise. For example, plea bargaining occurs in a lot of criminal cases, as the New York Times has described. Summary Judgment is another cause for the decline, as stated in the New York Times. Arbitration is another reason why juries decide few cases, as described in this series of articles by the New York Times.

Should we be concerned about the diminishing role of the jury in deciding our criminal and civil legal matters? Some people, such as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star of the Shark Tank, Mark Cuban, are concerned about the jury. He gives his opinion about the importance of juries in this video. Here is more information about a book on the fall of the jury and how to restore the jury’s authority. Juries are not perfect. At times they could be more diverse. They also can have bias. Other decision-makers such as judges may have the same problems. At the same time, jury systems in other countries grow. There are many different perspectives on this issue. Watch Professor Thomas’ video for more information.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Suja A. Thomas
  • Director Hernando Bahamon
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Animator Miguel Otálora
  • Compositor Jorge Jaramillo
  • Composer Manuel Borda
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen

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