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The Legislative Role of Juries

James P. Levine
American Bar Foundation Research Journal
Vol. 9, No. 3 (Summer, 1984), pp. 605-634
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Bar Foundation
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/828319
Page Count: 30
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The Legislative Role of Juries
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Abstract

Is it possible that jurors, in the process of evaluating the evidence against a defendant, act to some degree as legislators by assessing the soundness of policies they perceive the criminal law to be supporting? To test the hypothesis that jurors reflect public opinion in making such judgments, the author correlated changes in public opinion on war policy with fluctuations in the proportion of jury trial defendants found guilty of violating selective service laws. It was found that juries convicted those accused of draft evasion at a higher rate when a war was in progress than during peacetime and that during the Korean and Vietnam wars the conviction rate was directly correlated with public approval of American military actions. A breakdown of regional differences showed that the South was somewhat more supportive of the Vietnam War and more prone to convict in selective service cases than the rest of the nation was, but the results of this comparative analysis were inconclusive. Although the correspondence between public opinion and verdict tendencies was far from perfect (perhaps in part because of the skewed composition of juries), the study does support the notion that jurors draw on prevailing popular sentiments about laws and the public policies the laws further.

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