Dateline: September, 2007, Issue 1

When are juries more likely than judges to convict criminal defendants?

In 1966, Kalven and Zeisel found that judges agreed with criminal verdicts 78% of the time. In 2005, Eisenberg and colleagues examined a new database of criminal trials and found essentially the same rate of judge-jury agreement.

Eisenberg and colleagues report, however, that judges and juries differentially convict based on evidence strength, with judges having a lower conviction threshold than juries.

The researchers made three primary findings:

In sum, criminal defendants are benefited by opting for a bench trial when the evidence is weak, and a jury trial otherwise.

Source Kalven, H. & Zeisel, H. (1966). The American jury. Boston: Little, Brown.

Source Eisenberg, T., Hannaford-Agor, P. L., Hans, V. P., Waters, N. L., Munsterman, G. T., Schwab, S. J. & Wells, M. T. (2005). Judge-jury agreement in criminal cases: A partial replication of Kalven and Zeisel's The American Jury. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 2, pp. 171-207.