Illinois Moving To 6-Person Civil Jury Trials

Breaking News!   Illinois is moving from 12-person to 6-person civil juries.

On December 9, 2014, the Illinois House passed IL Senate Bill 3075.  If signed by the governor, the bill will revise the Code of Civil Procedure so that all civil jury trials use 6, rather than 12, person juries.  The new statute is expected to take effect June 1, 2015.

Under the current statute (735 ILCS 5/2-1105): only civil cases where the claim for damages is $50,000 or less shall be tried by a jury of 6 and any party has the statutory right to demand a jury of 12.

Under the proposed changes: ALL jury civil cases shall be tried by a jury of 6 and there is NO statutory right for a party to demand a jury of 12.  The statute provides for the request for alternate jurors and additional fees will be applied per alternate requested.

jury 2Reason For This Change:

What is the reason for this change?  The proposed reason is to reduce costs.

What is the REAL reason for this change?  In my humble opinion, ask the plaintiff’s bar because my gut tells me they are behind it.

I’m not one to cry conspiracy theory but mere logic supports that reducing only civil jury trials to 6 people, while significantly raising the amount each juror is paid, is not going to save the state any money.  As the law currently stands, jurors are paid $4 per day and mileage.  Under the revised law, each juror (civil and criminal) receive $25 the first day and $50 the second day.

In addition, anyone practicing civil trial law in Illinois over the last 10 years can tell you that civil trials are on the decline.  The vast majority of trials throughout this state (as in probably most, if not all, states) are criminal trials.  Since the bill is not reducing the number of criminal jurors, the overall cost of this change could actually increase since the bill raises the amount paid to each jury.

Impact On Civil Defendants:

There are many different opinions about how this change could impact civil defendants in the future.  What will the actual impact be, I don’t know, but it is an interesting topic to analyze and keep watching because it could alter our views on whether or not trial is a viable option in certain cases.

Here are a few comments I have seen and heard about the pros and cons of a reduced civil jury size:

Pro’s / Advantages of Reduced Jury Size:

  • Cost less to maintain
  • Overall trial time decreases because of voir dire and other aspects of the trial
  • Time for deliberation decreases
  • More efficient system because more time to have cases heard (reduced delays)

Con’s / Disadvantages of Reduced Jury Size:

  • Less representative of the community and minorities
  • Quality and/or effectiveness of jury deliberations is reduced
  • Erratic or variable jury awards
  • Less accurate results and facts analysis

Impact On Case Evaluations:

One thing I think everyone can agree on is that this change will impact civil jury trials, in one way or another.  For this reason, in the future we all need to be careful how we evaluate liability and potential verdicts in our cases.  The mere reduction in jury size could make the past jury verdict statistics we all use to evaluate cases less predictable and useful.

This is definitely a topic we will want to watch and one I will address again in the future.

Additional Reading:

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, the following are a few good articles and websites:

Op-Ed: Wheeler Calls SB 3075 Deliberate Bludgeoning of County Budgets, Website of Barbara Wheeler, IL State Rep. of 64th District

Does Jury Size Still Matter?  An Open Ended Question, By: Jill P. Holmquist, JD  (May 1, 2010)

Discernible Differences: A Survey Of Civil Jury Demands, By: M. Michelle Dunning

Ballew v. Georgia, 435 U.S. 223 (1978)


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