Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rural-urban differences in Argentine juries

Maria Ines Bergoglio presented a paper called "Metropolitan and Town Juries: The Influence of Social Context on Lay Participation" at Law & Society's Annual Meeting in Chicago this year. The abstract characterizes the paper as "describ[ing] the initial experience with mixed courts [of juries and judges] in the metropolitan area of Great Cordoba, and in the small cities of the province, in order to depict the impact of different social contexts on lay participation." Bergoglio analyzes the "support for citizen participation in legal decision making, the responses to the introduction of new mixed courts, and jury-judge agreement rates." The author notes that while lay participation in criminal trials was prescribed in Argentina's 1853 Constitution, the practice was only implemented in 2004 in the province of Cordoba. Bergoglio analyzes both qualitative and quantitative data from 2005-2008.

Bergoglio's findings (summarized beginning on p. 18 of the draft paper, which can be downloaded here) are:
  • resistance to lay participation is greater in cities, "where both technical abilities of lawyers and political activism of magistrates are higher, and it involved the presentation of constitutionality objections. Therefore, the implementation of lay participation advanced with better pace out the capital city."
  • Judicial authorities were decisive in supporting lay participation, rejecting constitutionality objections and dealing with practical difficulties, "particularly significant for courts located in small and middle size towns, generally short of buildings and administrative staff."
  • "we found similar unanimity rates in metropolitan and town areas, a finding that suggests that close social networks typical of towns do not affect the autonomy of lay citizens during the deliberation. However, where anonymity levels are low, jurors are more worried about the consequences of their decisions, and asked additional precautions to protect them from media exposure."
  • Finally, Bergoglio observed "rich political consequences of the [lay juror] experience. People who deliberate and jointly decide upon the guilt and the freedom of persons obtain a broader sense of joint membership in a political unit whose rules are partly derived from their work. They are able to make sound reflections about how the judiciary works, improving the quality of the public agenda on judicial politics. These effects are stronger among residents in small and middle size towns, who feel that politically important decisions are usually taken far from their places."
Download the full draft paper here.

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