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Federal courts, Jury trials, Judge trials, Dockets


Civil Procedure | Courts | Judges | Litigation


Many take as a given that jury-tried cases consume more time than judge-tried cases. Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit, for example, opines: “Court queues are almost always greatest for parties seeking civil jury trials. This makes economic sense. Such trials are more costly than bench trials both because of jury fees (which … understate the true social costs of the jury) and because a case normally takes longer to try to a jury than to a judge …. Parties are therefore “charged” more for jury trials by being made to wait in line longer.”

A close reading reveals that he is writing about both aspects of a jury’s speed: how long the actual in-court trial lasts, as well as how long the litigants have to wait before and after trial. The available data generally agree that jury trials take about twice as long as judge trials, although admittedly trials on average are rather short so that the absolute difference is not great. So, it may very well be that commentators are correct in saying that jury trial is slower than judge trial in terms of actual trial time. It thus appears obvious to many that jury-tried cases also last longer on the docket than judge-tried cases. But do jury-tired cases have a longer docket duration than judge-tried cases?

In assessing the speed of trial by jury versus trial by judge, one must consider both the length of the actual trial and also the total time from filing to termination of the case. The actual trial may proceed more slowly before a jury than before a judge, because of extra procedural steps. Yet, contrary to intuition, jury-tried cases last less long on the docket than judge-tried cases, probably because the press of other duties leads judges to interrupt the trial and postpone eventual decision. Thus, reformers who seek to speed up civil litigation by eliminating the jury should consider other time-saving measures.

Publication Citation

Published in: Judicature, vol. 79, no. 4 (January-February 1996).