We, the Jury: Justice and the Democratic Ideal

Overview

This magisterial book explores fascinating cases from American history to show how juries remain the heart of our system of criminal justice - and an essential element of our democracy. No other institution of government rivals the jury in placing power so directly in the hands of citizens. Jeffrey Abramson draws upon his own background as both a lawyer and a political theorist to capture the full democratic drama that is the jury. We, the Jury is a rare work of scholarship that brings the history of the jury ...
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Overview

This magisterial book explores fascinating cases from American history to show how juries remain the heart of our system of criminal justice - and an essential element of our democracy. No other institution of government rivals the jury in placing power so directly in the hands of citizens. Jeffrey Abramson draws upon his own background as both a lawyer and a political theorist to capture the full democratic drama that is the jury. We, the Jury is a rare work of scholarship that brings the history of the jury alive and shows the origins of many of today's dilemmas surrounding juries and justice.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Abramson, a former prosecutor who teaches politics at Brandeis University, here offers an interesting complement to Stephen Adler's The Jury (Nonfiction Forecasts, July 11), with less-detailed case studies and proposals for reform but a deeper look at the jury's history and function in a democratic society. Concentrating on criminal cases, the author argues for a conception of the jury as a body that will ``transcend starting loyalties'' to a common justice, rather than as a representative body ``where jurors act as spokespersons for competing group interests.'' He describes how juries evolved from the local knowledge model to an emphasis on impartiality, how the notion of jury diversity moved from ``different walks of life'' to questions of race and sex, and how ``scientific jury selection'' fosters cynicism about the impartiality of juries. Among Abramson's recommendations aimed at fostering jury deliberation: abolish peremptory challenges that let lawyers remove jurors, and allow potential jurors who have been exposed to pretrial publicity (i.e., those who try to be informed) to be empaneled. (Nov.)
Library Journal
A former assistant district attorney, Abramson (politics, Brandeis) believes in the American jury system and in democracy. Here he discusses historical and contemporary court cases that exemplify or nullify a democratic model of consensus through deliberation. He also examines the new mandatory cross-section representation for juries, scientific jury selection, legitimization of state power through juries, and a common justice above social divisions. As does Stephen Adler in The Jury (LJ 8/94), Abramson presents various reform proposals, including the elimination of the peremptory challenge and the honest use of jury nullification. He also advocates mandatory unanimous verdicts, abolishing jury service exemptions for professionals, and revising the impartial, or "empty mind," criteria for juror selection. This title continues the author's concern for democracy expressed in his Electronic Commonwealth (LJ 9/15/88) and provides depth and range to the debate over jury trials. For academic and larger popular legal collections.-Janice Dunham, John Jay Coll. Lib., New York
Booknews
Traces the evolution of the jury system from an intimate institution of small-town justice to the impersonal institution of today. Explores cases from American history and discusses racial bias, jury selection, juries and local justice, and the death penalty. An appendix includes statistics on jury trials. For general readers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Mary Carroll
Abramson, a former prosecutor and corporate attorney who is now a Brandeis University professor of politics (and married to African American historian Jacqueline Jones), views the jury as a defining institution that represents both the best and the worst of democracy. Identifying two conflicting ideals for jury operation--the deliberative and the representative--Abramson organizes his study around changing attitudes toward three issues: the presumption that ordinary citizens have knowledge that enables them to render accurate verdicts); the shift, beginning in 1968, from selecting jurors from an "elite" segment of a community to drawing jurors from a representative cross section of the community; and the "demanding [expectation that] jurors [will] put aside narrow group allegiances in favor of spying common ground." Gracefully using the past to shed light on the present (and vice versa), "We, the Jury" establishes a social and historical context for current public policy issues, including jury nullification, the demand for "ignorant" jurors in highly publicized cases, "scientific jury selection," the trend away from requiring unanimous verdicts, and the impact of race on the imposition of the death penalty. The reforms Abramson urges should stimulate healthy debate, and the remarkable history he traces will fascinate fans of Grisham, Turow, and Court TV as well as academic readers
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465036981
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/1994
  • Pages: 320

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
Pt. I Democratic Knowledge
1 Juries and Local Justice 17
2 Juries and Higher Justice 57
Pt. II Democratic Representation
3 Jury Selection and the Cross-Sectional Ideal 99
4 Scientific Jury Selection 143
Pt. III Democratic Deliberation
5 The Unanimous Verdict 179
6 Race and the Death Penalty 207
Conclusion 241
Appendix 251
Notes 255
Index 300
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