20 February 2004

Over at FindLaw, Professor Vik Amar (Hastings) completed a provocative two-part series on jury reform. The articles (part 1) (part 2) are well worth a look.

I have considerable personal experience with peremptory challenges—as a juror. Or, rather, potential juror. I have never been called to a civilian court (and, absent a medical situation, I would welcome the opportunity). I was selected for the initial panel of courts-martial over forty times. I was peremptorily challenged off those panels thirty-seven times, generally for a single reason: during that time, I was on command orders. In the community of military defense counsel, there is a perception that commanding officers will always vote to convict and throw the book, just on the word of their counterparts in other units. Silly me—I thought I was supposed to listen to the evidence and decide based on the evidence alone. (I also note that one of the four panels I did serve on acquitted the defendant—and the conviction rate in peacetime courts-martial is well over 90%.) At least in a court martial each side gets only a single peremptory challenge. That is one too many, for many reasons other than those noted by Professor Amar.