Author Robert Katzberg Discusses "The Vanishing Trial" and The Dangers of Juried Trials Disappearing

The Vanishing Trial by Robert Katzberg book cover
Book cover of Robert Katzberg's "The Vanishing Trial" showing a court house
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When we imagine the proceedings of the United States judicial systems, few things are more iconic than that of a group of 12 individuals, debating behind locked doors to decide the outcome of a major case.

But at the federal level, the highest judicial level in this country; cases where a jury decides the fate of a defendant are rapidly disappearing.

According to a report by the Director of Judicial Business of the United States Courts, there were more than 56 thousand criminal defendants charged in US federal courts as recently as in 1990, with about 5,200 of those cases resolved during a juried trial, which is roughly 9%.

Flash forward to 2010. By then there were more than 98 thousand cases, but just 2 thousand sixty six federal cases saw charges resolved via trial by a jury. That is only about "2" percent of the total cases. Those numbers are expected to follow the same downward trend in the near future.

Many law experts attribute this decline in federal juried trials to the implementation of congressional sentencing guidelines - and the increased use of mandatory minimum sentences. Those date back to about 1984, and the so-called "War on Drugs."

These moves discourage defendants from ever going to trial by jury, where if they are convicted, they would probably face much harsher sentences. There are other consequences that are devaluing the system according to some legal analysts.

A new book is out that paints a picture of what happens as juried trials become atypical in our American judicial landscape.

On today’s program, we talk with Robert Katzberg, author of “The Vanishing Trial”.

Also on today’s program we share with you portions of a conversation between ideastream Executive Editor Mike McIntyre, and Terry Gross, the host of public radio’s “Fresh Air”.

We’ll also hear about the latest out of the Statehouse with our bureau chief Karen Kasler.


- Robert Katzberg, Author, "The Vanishing Trial"

- Terry Gross, Host and Co-Executive Producer, "Fresh Air"

- Karen Kasler, Bureau Chief, Statehouse News Bureau

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