In a historic first for Georgia, 12 men and women recently passed judgment in the country’s first jury trial, a grisly murder case. But the answer to whether or not jury trials will enhance the credibility of the country’s justice system remains to be seen.
A promising development, jury trials might help reduce the perception of a lack of judiciary independence in Georgia. A key aspect of well-working jury trials is a sufficiently large jury size. While it is tempting to reduce costs by having smaller juries, there is ample evidence that small juries reduce the accuracy and predictability of outcomes. While not a problem in the majority of cases, in which the evidence is clearly favoring one side, jury size is important once the evidence is less clear-cut.
Small juries have some advantages – they are less costly and the consensus is reached more quickly. But with larger jury sizes, chances are higher that diverse viewpoints are represented, and that important information from the trial is retained by at least one juror. The quality of jury decisions crucially depends on dissenters who are willing to question the majority. But being the only dissenter is hard, whereas knowing that there is at least one other dissenter is much easier – something more likely to occur in a large jury. Given that the main concerns are the accuracy and predictability of outcomes, all this favors a larger jury size, as is confirmed by the empirical evidence.
Predictability has another important implication. Plea-bargaining can only be an effective means of resolving court cases if trial outcomes are predictable to the parties involved. Large jury sizes will help in this respect.
Lastly, a larger jury size has one other benefit: A larger jury will expose more citizens to the workings of the court system, arguably improving transparency and the quality of public discourse.