Lost in Translation: Criminal Jury Trials in the United States, 3 Brit. J. Amer. L. Stud. 1 (2014)
Michael Heyman, Lost in Translation: Criminal Jury Trials in the United States, 3 Brit. J. Amer. L. Stud. 1 (2014)
Having taught Criminal Law for several decades, I’ve watched students struggle to grasp its basic concepts and language. Over time, we’ve managed to master these matters. But criminal trials require untrained juries, assembled from the general population, not only to listen carefully throughout these trials, but then to apply an entirely new body of concepts, effectively making decisions about personal liberty and even life itself. Miscues are clearly predictable.
This Article examines the causes of these miscues, while avoiding the simplistic solution of ridding the system of jury trials. Rather, the machinery of criminal justice is flawed by the presence of arcane, outdated criminal codes, judges passively presiding over trials by rarely attempting to prevent or eliminate confusion among jurors and a system of judicial review that presumes correctness and understanding in the face of flatly contradictory facts. Finally, as the title of this piece suggests, much can be improved and justice more fully served by simply reworking the judge-jury relationship, whereby judges more actively and sensitively educate juries on their functions and the applicable law throughout these trials.