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The Death of the American Trial

In The Death of the American Trial, distinguished legal scholar Robert P. Burns makes an impassioned case for reversing the rapid decline of the trial before we lose one of our public culture’s greatest achievements. As a practice that is adapted for modern times yet rooted in ancient wisdom, the trial is uniquely suited to balance the tensions—between idealism and realism, experts and citizens, contextual judgment and reliance on rules—that define American culture. Arguing that many observers make a grave mistake by taking a complacent or even positive view of the trial’s demise, Burns concludes by laying out the catastrophic consequences of losing an institution that so perfectly embodies democratic governance.

200 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Law and Legal Studies: General Legal Studies, Law and Society


"In impassioned prose, Burns argues that the decline of civil and criminal jury trials in the United States is disasterous. He lauds jury trials as public dramas that show the truth. After explaining how trials work, from opening statement to closing argument, the author traces the jury trial’s current form to nineteenth-century pracitces in England, made more democratice in America, and also discusses its much earlier medieval origins. Then he describes the delcine of the trial according to various researchers. To his credit, Burns offers suggestions for revitalizing the trial and cites numerous dramatic trials that showcased public problems, e.g. those involving labor organizer Joe Hill and radical Angela Davis. Without trials, he submits, elites would decide justice and the judicial branch would decline. . . . Burns’s well-written and well-researched book is for all interested readers."

Library Journal

"A stimulating, impassioned, well-argued defense of the continued importance of the trial."


Table of Contents



1. Inside the Contemporary Trial

2. Historical Notes on the Trial’s Importance

3. The Fundamental Tensions the Trial Defines

4. Decline and Criticism

5. The Meanings of the Trial’s Death




Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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