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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Ind. Courts - "Few Indiana court cases resolved by jury trial"

Dan Cardin reported in a long story Sunday in the NWI Times:

INDIANAPOLIS — Trial by jury, a hallmark of the American court system, seems to be disappearing in Indiana — in practice, if not in principle.

In 2015, there were 1,160 jury trials across the state's 92 counties out of 1,361,787 new criminal, civil, infraction and ordinance violations filed in Indiana.

That's nine fewer jury trials in the state than in 2014, and a sharp decline from the 1,514 cases resolved by a jury in 2010, and the 2,450 jury trials in 2005, according to data published by the Indiana Office of Court Services.

Similarly, jury trials are increasingly rare in Northwest Indiana courthouses. * * *

Indiana is not alone in seeing fewer cases go to a jury. Many states report similar declines, and data show the number of jury trials in the federal court system dropped 52 percent between 1997 and 2015.

Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, who lived in Munster as a child, said there are several explanations for the 53 percent statewide decline in jury trials over the past decade.

For one, she said, there were some 320,000 more cases filed in 2005 than in 2015. She also said civil cases tend more often to be resolved through mediation these days than they were in the past.

"We will always protect the right to a jury trial," Rush said. "(But) if parties come to a resolution of the matter in a timely process, I think that's great." * * *

Another reason for the relative paucity of jury trials is that traffic tickets and ordinance violations, which seldom go to a jury, comprised 43 percent of the court cases filed statewide in 2015.

There were just 63,582 felonies (5 percent of all cases) charged to Indiana's 6.6 million residents, including 232 murders. * * *

Rush said it's too soon to tell the impact on jury trials from Indiana's 2014 criminal code reforms that generally reduced prison terms for all but the worst crimes, and favored community corrections, drug treatment or other diversion programs, over locking most criminals up for long stretches.

Some county prosecutors initially chafed at their apparent loss of plea-bargaining power, since the changes eliminated what once were lengthy prison terms for mid-level felonies.

However, the initial data show prosecutors do not seem to be taking more cases to juries seeking a maximum sentence.

Here the the Indiana Court page linking to its reports and statistics.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 3, 2017 09:34 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts