(11 of 12)
But what is a jury unable to understand? "The idea that juries can't understand Complicated cases is pure unadulterated horsefeathers," says Chicago Attorney Max Wildman, whose cases have involved all the intricacies of medical and airline liability. "It's the job of a lawyer to reduce a complicated situation to something that can be understood by the average person." Adds University of Pennsylvania Criminologist Marvin Wolfgang: "There are words in the law that are almost impossible to define, and 'too complicated' would be among them."
Granted the principle that a jury can theoretically deal with anything, a number of reforms are being tested to make them deal with it more effectively. The most fundamental break with tradition has been a move toward smaller juries and toward verdicts reached by less than unanimous votes. Since 1971, 85 of 95 federal district courts have gradually begun using juries of six to eight members to hear civil cases. Thirty-eight states have adopted similar reductions in size for some civil cases and 34 for some criminal cases. Though all federal jury verdicts must be unanimous, 29 states now permit less-than-unanimous votes in certain civil cases and five in criminal cases. These developments have speeded up the process of reaching verdicts, not only saving time and money but paying heed to the principle that justice delayed is jus tice denied.
There are thoughtful observers, however, who believe that justice requires a price to be paid, and that justice hurried may also be justice denied. Zeisel, for one, protests that "to have juries of only six people deciding cases worth millions, allegedly for reasons of parsimony, is grotesque." Using smaller juries also reduces the chance of getting a broad cross section of the community, and nonunanimous verdicts increase the risk that minority points of view will simply be overridden. Moreover, although nonunanimous verdicts reduce the problem of hung juries, Jack Peebles, an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, emphatically declares that "if a man goes to jail, it should be because there is no reasonable doubt about his guilt. There should be a unanimous verdict."
Smaller and less controversial reforms would also prove useful. Letting the jurors take notes, for instance, is forbidden in some states and frowned on in many. The prevailing theory is that the taking of notes intimidates those who do not take notes and encourages jurors to give their notes undue weight as evidence, but it seems burdensome to force everyone to rely largely on memory throughout even the most elaborate case. Though it has been determined that jurors often do not understand the judge's instructions, it has also been determined that legal instructions are often unnecessarily hard to understand. The Florida supreme court, for one, issued in June a comprehensive new set of standardized jury instructions ranging from the