The disappearing trial: how social scientists can help save the jury from extinction

Miko M. Wilford, Brian H. Bornstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


America’s founding fathers believed jury trials to be a critical component of an orderly democracy. Yet, fewer than 5% of America’s cases are decided by juries. We present an interdisciplinary review of empirical, legal, and historical literatures to highlight the significance of the disappearing trial. Without juries, direct participation in the justice system is severely limited, at a time when trust in governmental institutions is plummeting and highly publicized examples of systematic injustices are surging. Further, continued research on jury trials is critical for its practical implications and to address numerous fundamental psychological processes. The diminishment of the jury trial has been accompanied by a substantial increase in guilty pleas. The vast majority resulting from plea bargaining: a process that lacks the due process protections and transparency of trials. Furthermore, the increasing reliance on guilty pleas provides prosecutors with an immense amount of sentencing power—power once reserved for juries and judges. This dominant system of pleas poses a number of potential issues that are underscored throughout this paper. Ultimately, continued research on both adjudicative processes within the social sciences is critical to assuage the justice system to reverse its current trend toward the complete marginalization of the jury system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalPsychology, Crime and Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • adjudication
  • decision making
  • guilty pleas
  • juries
  • public policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychology(all)
  • Law


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