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June 23, 2013

"Juries and the Criminal Constitution"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Meghan Ryan now on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Judges are regularly deciding criminal constitutional issues based on changing societal values.  For example, they are determining whether police officer conduct has violated society’s "reasonable expectations of privacy" under the Fourth Amendment and whether a criminal punishment fails to comport with the "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society" under the Eighth Amendment.  Yet judges are not trained to assess societal values, nor do they, in assessing them, ordinarily consult data to determine what those values are.  Instead, judges turn inward, to their own intuitions, morals, and values, to determine these matters.  But judges’ internal assessments of societal standards are likely not representative of society’s morals and values — because judges, themselves, are ordinarily not representative of the communities that they serve.

Juries, on the other hand, are constitutionally required to be drawn from a representative cross-section of the community.  Further, because juries are composed of several different individuals, they may draw on a broader range of knowledge and expertise in making their decisions.  The historically trusted body to protect defendants from an overbearing government, juries, rather than judges, should be the ones empowered to determine these criminal constitutional moral matters.

June 23, 2013 at 10:23 PM | Permalink

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