25 June 2013

Disappearing Civil Jury Trials In Texas

In 2012, there were fewer than 1,200 civil jury trials in state district courts in Texas. That’s only a 1 percent decline from 2011, but a 64 percent decline from 1997, when there were 3,369 jury trials.

The federal courts in Texas have seen an equally significant decline. U.S. district court judges conducted 360 civil jury trials in 1997 but only 135 last year [a 63% decline].
These jury trial rates are at a forty year low for Texas.

In 2012, the population of Texas was 26,403,743, and increase of 36% from the 19,439,337 people who lived in Texas in 1997.

Adjusted for population growth, the decline in jury trials in Texas over the last twenty-five years (which has been almost identical in federal courts and in state district courts) has been about 74%.  The fact that Texas is more or less typical of the nation, and that the downward trend in jury trial utilization has largely leveled off (declining only 1% from 2011), doesn't make it any less notable.  And, despite its reputation for faith in juries, Texas has about 25% fewer general jurisdiction court jury trials per capita than my home state of Colorado.

By comparison, there were 83,596 active lawyers in Texas as of November 6, 2009.  

Assuming that the average general jurisdiction court civil jury trial involves four lawyers (two for each party), the average Texas lawyer participates in just two or three civil jury trials as a litigator in an entire career (although, obviously, some lawyers will participate in far more civil jury trials, while transactional lawyers, criminal lawyers and lawyers who handle predominantly small claims collection cases or divorce cases, may never participate in one).

In 1997, in contrast, the average number of career civil jury trials for a Texas lawyer would be about ten.

Statistics on the mix of U.S. civil jury trials by case type from sources not particular to Texas suggest that about 75% of civil jury trials involve personal injury lawsuits.

It is also worth noting that the jury as an institution is still far from dead in the United States. 

Juries are the predominant means of resolving contested felony cases and juries are quite commonly employed to resolve quite minor misdemeanor cases.  

Also, despite the fact that civil juries are far less common than they used to be in the United States, the United States used civil juries more frequently in the United States than any other country on Earth (with Canada as a close second).  In the United Kingdom, where the institution originated, for example, civil juries are far less common than they are in the United States - they are available in only a handful of kinds of cases.

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