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Library Journal Review
In impassioned prose, Burns (Northwestern Univ. Sch. of Law; A Theory of the Trial) argues that the decline of civil and criminal jury trials in the United States is disastrous. He lauds jury trials as public dramas that show the truth. After explaining how trials work, from opening statement to closing argument, the author traces the jury trial's current form to 19th-century practices in England, made more democratic in America, and also discusses its much earlier medieval origins. Then he describes the decline of the trial according to various researchers. To his credit, Burns offers suggestions for revitalizing the trial and cites numerous dramatic trials that showcased public problems, e.g., those involving labor organizer Joe Hill and radical Angela Davis. Without trials, he submits, elites would decide justice, and the judicial branch would decline. For a more trenchant, less scholarly riposte, see Philip K. Howard's Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law. Burns's well-written and well-researched book is for all interested readers.-Harry Charles, Attorney at Law, St. Louis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Burns's book is a tocsin that brings attention to his claim that we are in danger of losing one of our public culture's greatest achievements, the trial. Burns (Northwestern Univ. Law School) provides data on the precipitous decline both in percentages and absolute numbers of trials in the US, explores the reasons offered for that decline, gives a description of the trial's workings and its importance in our history, and lays out the fundamental tensions the trial defines and preserves. Following Alexis de Tocqueville and Hannah Arendt, Burns argues that the trial provides a space of freedom for effective individual speech; and that it is one of the few remaining institutions where action--citizen participation--can take place, and where "the healthy tensions among our major social and political institutions" find a forum. Whatever advantages other procedures or institutions for doing justice offer, they shortchange these values. In Burns's view they are not likely "to bring our moral and political sensibilities to bear on actual events while preserving stability and respect for the rule of law...." A stimulating, impassioned, well-argued defense of the continued importance of the trial. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. P. J. Galie Canisius College