Written by: J. Hilliard Burton and Charles Haack
The Georgia Senate may vote Friday on Senate Bill 405. S.B. 405 aims to alleviate some of the pressure on the court system caused by the Covid-19 epidemic. In particular, it will allow jury panels in civil trials to be comprised of only six jurors, rather than the traditional twelve. In theory, this would allow for smaller jury panels to be called and a decreased risk of transmission of the virus. Importantly, the bill has a sunset provision stating that these changes would remain in effect only until the end of June 2021. However, S.B. 405 has met a strong response from legal associations across Georgia. Although the right to a twelve person jury is a constitutional right in Georgia Superior Courts, many fear this might perhaps set a future precedent in other courts across the state.
This is not the first time this debate has arisen. The change was discussed in the late 1990s in connection with a proposed modification to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 48. In considering the issue, the American College of Trial Lawyers, which consists of members from both the defense and plaintiffs bar, concluded that twelve person juries should be used for all civil cases. The ACTL found that twelve person juries more accurately represent a cross-section of the community. Their research found that this led to more rational, fair, accurate, and predictable outcomes than six person juries.
However, the proponents of six person juries argue that smaller juries would save time and money. While true, the research by the ACTL found that such savings are negligible and are offset by the loss of fairness, accuracy, and community participation. The ACTL report concluded: “Simply stated, six-person panels are inferior to twelve-person juries in their ability to find facts objectively, accurately, and independently, and as well, they are less capable of representing the values and interests of the community at large.”
The vote on Friday will have an impact on the future of Georgia’s judicial system, including both parties and potential jurors. The Weathington Firm wants our clients to be aware of the potential impact. We remain dedicated to keeping you up to date on all the latest legal developments in order to better prepare, support, and fight for our clients.
Click here for the current version of Georgia SB 405.
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