INDIANAPOLIS – The right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers may be the cornerstone of the American legal system, but it’s being exercised with less frequency in the state’s trial courts, according to a massive report released last Monday.
Of the hundreds of thousands of civil and criminal cases that made their way through the courts in Indiana in 2012, only 1,334 cases were decided by a jury. That’s down from the 1,514 jury trials in 2010 and down from the 2,015 jury trials held in 2002.
Increasingly, cases are being disposed of in other ways, from guilty pleas and deferred prosecutions in criminal matters to mediation in civil cases.
The drop in jury trials – which reflects a nationwide trend over the last decade – is just one of the many pieces of court-related data contained in the 1,800-page 2012 Indiana Judicial Service and Probation Report posted on the Indiana Supreme Court website Monday.
The same report says more 300,000 people went to court without an attorney last year, raising concerns about the quality of justice they may have received.
It also found the number of new court filings is on the decline – as are court-generated revenues – from the peak year of 2 million new cases filed in 2008. In 2012, there were 1.6 million new cases filed.
Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson, who spoke to reporters about the report, said the decline in jury trials and court cases in civil matters may reflect concerns about both the financial costs of the legal system and an effort by warring parties to find another way to resolve their disputes. More people may be “realiz(ing) the wisdom of settling cases on their own terms rather than have a court impose a solution,” Dickson said.
Yet he also voiced some concern about fewer jury trials, saying it means fewer people are participating in the judicial system as jurors and that’s lessening public exposure to how the justice system works. “The jury trial is the lifeblood of the American judicial system,” Dickson said, later adding: “The public confidence in the jury system is crucial.”