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The Missing American Jury: Restoring the Fundamental Constitutional Role of the Criminal, Civil, and Grand Juries, Suja A. Thomas

Reviewed by Anna Roberts

BUY

 

This is a bold book. Suja A. Thomas urges that the jury—criminal, civil, and grand—be recognized as a fourth “branch” (p. 5). She asserts that procedures that have contributed to the reduction of the jury's power—including summary judgment and state prosecution without grand juries—are unconstitutional. And, as a Plan B if her constitutional arguments do not prevail, she proposes big changes that include informing juries about sentence exposure, presenting juries with any charges that were offered in plea bargaining, and requiring that juries justify their verdicts.

She backs up her boldness, not only with extensive research documenting “a common history of diminution of power” (p. 89) but also with thoughtful explications of the harm done to the jury and, as a result, to society. The jury is a decider of fates, and Thomas tells a powerful story of how its fate has been shaped: at various times and in various ways it has been championed, protected, and powerful, but it is now disfavored and disparaged as useless, and is perhaps all but useless, with its power transferred to branches that it was supposed to check.

Thomas is careful to include plenty for those who might resist such a bold vision. You do not need to find the jury's diminution unconstitutional to find it regrettable, for example. In

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