Due to back-logged court dockets, jury trials are reasonably inaccessible for the efficient execution of justice. Even with a steadfast resolve from the onset of an action to hold a jury trial, it may take years before a trial occurs. Nevertheless, civil litigators often come across cases in which a jury trial is preferable. The client may be a sympathetic figure or the dispute may lend better to common sense judgment than rigid legal inspection. No matter what the reason, it is critical that litigators and their clients retain access to this essential legal construct. There are several alternatives to fulfill this need, built for both pre-trial and trial-replacement. Below are three popular choices that should preserve the overarching benefits of juror input into the future.
Summary Jury Trial
As a pre-trial solution, the summary jury trial provides litigators insight into possible jury outcomes. It is built as an abbreviated mimicry of the standard jury trial. In general, a smaller jury is selected from a pool of jurors comparable to the venue using a shortened voir dire. The attorneys then deliver opening arguments, summaries presentations of their evidence and witnesses, and finally closing arguments. The jury deliberates and provides a verdict. The attorneys may choose to alter any portion of the summary jury trial procedure. Some common variations to the jury include paneling multiple juries or requesting individual verdicts from each juror.
Aside from efficiency, the major advantage of the summary jury trial is its non-binding nature. This provides litigators a better perspective in negotiations. That said, this advantage may also be this alternative’s downfall. Because litigators are not bound by the jury’s decision, the effectiveness of the whole process is still contingent on successful settlement negotiations.
Another pre-trial incorporation of jury input is the jury mediation. Typically, these are structured to conform to a regular mediation procedure, where the two sides meet with a third-party mediator to discuss resolution. The key difference is that a sample jury sits in on the presentation of information. These jurors then discuss their opinions on the case and provide the mediator their hypothetical verdicts when requested. The intention is that this will provide an additional talking point to assist the mediator and parties with reaching a resolution.
Jury mediation is subject to the same advantages and disadvantages as the summary jury trial; however, it affords a distinct advantage: the parties are already at the bargaining table. Summary jury trial is still a highly adversarial process, whereas jury mediation is inherently cooperative. Both provide the valuable insight of juries but jury mediation appears to minimize the downside of being non-binding.
Expedited Jury Trials
At least ten states, offer a trial-replacement to combat the non-binding nature of other alternatives. In essence, expedited jury trials are statutorily defined summary jury trials. In California's for instance, limit jury size, limit voir dire, limit appeals, and place time restrictions on all elements of the process, including jury deliberations. The concept is that expedited jury trials will help to thin trial dockets and promote the efficient use of state resources. To borrow a phrase, the jury is still out on whether these new state-run processes will succeed or attain more widespread usage.