09 February 2006

Juries in Colorado.

I don't know how many coroner's juries or grand juries there are in Colorado each year (yet!). (See the post below.) But, I do know how many other state court jury trials there are in the state and there are surprisingly few. I'll save for another post to fully explore the implications of this fact, but suffice it to say that a significant number of judges, academics, attorneys and other people interested in the legal system have grown concerned about a system where hearing the facts and having an impartial determination made in a case, especially before a jury, has become the rare exception, rather than the norm, especially in non-criminal cases. Also, if we are going to be in a system that isn't primarily a jury trial system, it would be possible to reform the rules of civil procedure significantly. These rules are now hamstrung by the fact that all factual determinations must wait until an ulimate trial, whether or not a jury is actually requested or a trial is likely. Cases with no serious factual disputes can be resolved fairly efficiently. Cases with even minor, but crucial factual disputes can linger interminably.

In District Court (the state trial court of general jurisdiction), there were just 1,033 jury trials in 2005. Of those 691 were in felony cases (about 150 per 10,000 cases filed), 311 were in civil suits (about 60 per 10,000 civil cases filed, excluding domestic, juvenile, mental health and probate cases; most that do go to juries are personal injury cases), and 31 were in juvenile cases (likely cases involving terminations of parental rights for alleged abuse or neglect, a rate is hard to determine because abuse cases, paternity cases and delinquency cases are hard to parse from each other statistically). Denver had 167 jury trials at that level in 2005, 88 for felonies, 78 in civil cases, and 1 in a juvenile case.

There were 906 jury trials in county court, which handles less serious matters, in 2005 in Colorado. Of those just 18 were in civil matters (roughly one per 10,000 cases filed), 561 were in misdemeanor cases (about 80 per 10,000 of cases filed), and 326 were in traffic cases (about 20 per 10,000 cases).

Denver is excluded from these statistics because of its merged municipal and county court structure. It had 175 jury trials in the part of the court analogous to the county court in other counties in the state (5 civil, 117 misdemeanor and 53 traffic), and 126 jury trials in Denver's counterpart of a municipal court.

In fact, there were more appeals from the District Court in civil cases (1,058) than there were civil trials of any kind in District Court in 2005 (945 including quasi-criminal juvenile matters) due in part to cases decided prior to trial in motion practice, something also true in felony cases where there were a total of 711 trials of any kind and 1,192 appeals, due largely due to appeals of sentencing decisions made following plea bargains. This is not true in county court, however, where there were 595 appeals statewide in 2005 from county and municipal courts combined, but 906 jury trials and thousands of trials before judges.

Criminal lawyers get all the fun. Of the 2,114 jury trials held in the state each year (exluding municipal courts), 1759 (83%) are criminal or quasi-criminal cases, and on top of that, all grand juries are criminal and almost all coroner's jury inquests are quasi-criminal.

There are just 334 civil jury trials in state courts in Colorado (municipal courts don't have jurisdiction in civil cases) in all of 2005 for the roughly 30,000 attorneys who practice law in Colorado, about 85-90% of whom don't do any criminal work. It is hardly surprising then, that there aren't all that many attorneys in Colorado with a lot of civil jury trial experience. Even in a fairly volume civil litigation practice, it would be typical to have no more than one jury trial per attorney per year, and often less jury practice than that.

There are a little over 250 trial judges in Colorado's state courts. So, while trial judges preside over criminal or quasi-criminal jury trials roughly every month or two, on average (some and some less in jurisdictions where judges divide responsibility by type of case), the average trial judge in Colorado sees only one or two civil jury trials a year. Now, obviously, there are far more cases out there, the vast majority never go to trial and many that do go to trial at all, go to lower profile trials before a judge only (there are 5,696 trials to judges in small dollar amount small claims and county court cases each year, including Denver), but the numbers are still suprising low.

In 2002, the most recent year for which I have information readily available, Colorado's federal district court had 30 criminal jury trials and 41 civil jury trials. This works out to about 1 jury trial per month for the seven U.S. District Court judges. About 1.5% of U.S. District Court civil cases in Colorado end in jury trials.

Put another way, Colorado needs about 17,611 trial jurors to hear cases each year (exluding those who are called for jury service but don't actually end up having to hear a case, municipal court juries, grand jurors and coroner's jurors). This means that the odds that you will actually serve on a jury that hears a trial in a lifetime in Colorado, at the current rate, are about 25%.

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