Press Release: Burns, The Death of the American Trial

April 20, 2009
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From the trial of O. J. Simpson to classic films like 12 Angry Men and the seemingly endless incarnations of Law & Order, jury trials real and imagined continue to play a powerful role in American culture. Their role in American justice, however, is shrinking rapidly, as juries decide a smaller fraction of criminal and civil cases with each passing year. In The Death of the American Trial, Robert Burns warns that this decline could lead not only to the loss of a vaunted institution, but also to the dangerous erosion of American democracy. The trial, Burns argues, is one of our greatest public achievements. Demonstrating how trials have always provided a defense against encroaching secrecy and bureaucracy, he lays out the profound consequences of losing an institution that so perfectly embodies democratic governance. As one federal judge put it, the jury is the ”canary in the mineshaft; if it goes, if our people lose their inherited right to do justice in court, other democratic institutions will lose breath too.“
An impassioned and eloquent case for resuscitation, The Death of the American Trial makes clear that to ensure the future health of the nation, the trial’s unique role must continue to play out not only in the stories we tell ourselves, but also in our halls of justice.
Read the press release.

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