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Chicago Jury Project


The Chicago Jury Project was an investigation of the role and functions of the jury in the U.S. legal system. The inquiry was conducted by the University of Chicago Law School with funding from the Ford Foundation. Its primary goal was to join the social scientist and the lawyer in a working relationship in which they could share their unique skills and experiences with each other, along with amassing pertinent data to answer some interdisciplinary questions, in order to create new ideas and theories in their respective fields.

The topics to be studied included the differences between the roles of the judge and the jury; the jury's determination of the issue of insanity when it is asserted as a defense; the influence of the existence of insurance upon the minds of the jurors when deciding a case; and the jury's comprehension of, and attitude toward, the concept of contributory negligence in jurisdictions where it was law. The methodology by which such information was gleaned included personal conversations with jurors after the conclusion of trials as well as questionnaires. The rationales underlying the processes by which jurors were selected and examined on voir dire were additional subjects of study. The views of the general public and members of the legal profession regarding juries were solicited. There was also an examination of the costs inherent in the operation of the jury system.

The Chicago Jury Project encountered one problem as a result of the techniques used in collecting data. With the permission of the presiding judge and counsel, the staff made recordings of the deliberation of jurors in five civil cases brought to trial before the federal district court sitting in Wichita, Kansas. Such recordings were to be used in determining whether interviews conducted with jurors after a trial accurately described the events occurring in the jury room. The jurors were not, however, informed of the recordings. When it was revealed that such recordings were made, the attorney general of the United States publicly censured the project and the senate judiciary committee convened a special hearing to investigate such unorthodox and questionable research methods. State legislatures responded to such disclosures by enacting statutes proscribing the recording of jury deliberations.

The findings of the Chicago Jury Project are discussed in the books Delay in the Court and The American Jury, published in 1959 and 1966, respectively.

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