Missing in Action

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The Missing American Jury: Restoring the Fundamental Constitutional Role of the Criminal, Civil, and Grand Juries by Suja A. Thomas (Cambridge University Press, $99.99, 262 pages)

“Juries should decide criminal and civil cases… And grand juries should decide whether charges proceed against criminal defendants in state courts prior to any plea discussions by the government.”

“Blackstone cautioned against establishing tribunals of judges and other persons to decide facts without juries. Other countries had done so, eliminating juries, and eventually devolved into aristocracies.”

University of Illinois law professor Suja Thomas’s review of the functions of the American jury is written in obtuse, legalese, textbook language: “A jury trial will not be required for a new cause of action for which money remedies are available unless the action is analogous to one that existed at common law.” This, and a price of $100, makes it difficult to determine who would serve as the audience for the book.

The premise of the work is that the jury is an increasingly powerless and limited aspect of the criminal and civil justice system; and the role of grand juries has also been eroded. This is definitely true at a time when over 90 percent of criminal cases are settled without a jury (e.g., plea agreements). I suppose Thomas has performed a service in detailing the history of juries in the U.S. and elsewhere, but I doubt that 262 pages was needed to make a single point.

I was on my way to potentially serve on a jury panel when I began to read the work. This led me to realize that there are two groups who might be interested in reading The Missing American Jury (presuming they can find a copy in a library); specifically, those called for jury duty and pre-law students. Law students will learn enough about the topic in their first-year classes.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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