Democratizing Justice: The Vital Role of Jurors in the Age of the “Vanishing Trial"

Anna Offit, Anthropology

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 12:00pm
438 Robertson Hall
Event Category: 
Graduate Students

LEGS, or "Law-Engaged Graduate Students," meets during the academic year to discuss a work in progress by one of our Graduate Associates. Academic papers, dissertation proposals, and dissertation chapters have been presented at these meetings, to an audience of fellow graduate students.

Abstract: "Given the infrequency of jury trials at the federal level, ours has been designated an age of the “vanishing trial" (Galanter 2004). Nevertheless, ethnographic research reveals that lay decision-makers pervade federal prosecutors’ everyday work. From the earliest stages of case preparation, the mere possibility that a case will proceed to trial prompts consideration of hypothetical jurors’ perspectives. This consideration is underappreciated by scholars who assume that fewer trials means the  diminishment of lay decision-makers’ impact on the legal system. While not disputing this view, this paper adds much-needed nuance through an exploration of the role that jurors play as an imaginative and ethical resource for federal prosecutors. I show that jurors are a constant presence in their strategy and decision-making as they assess evidence, witnesses, and ongoing investigations with colleagues and supervisors. Drawing on participatory empirical research, I argue that by facilitating prosecutors' reflexive and creative work, jurors remain instrumental in democratizing justice in the American legal system."

Anna Offit
J.D., Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology

Anna Offit is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the Anthropology Department with a JD from Georgetown and an MPhil from the University of Cambridge. Between 2013 and 2017 she carried out ethnographic research with federal prosecutors in the Northeast United States. This included interviews with 132 Assistant U.S. Attorneys and participation in dozens of jury selection proceedings and related meetings. Her dissertation examines the role of lay decision-makers in democratic trials.