Document Type



This article was published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2, 331–369, July 2004.


Criminal case complexity persists as a central tenet in many academic and public critiques of our legal system even though little is known about two critical questions. One question is whether key actors (juries, attorneys, and judges) view case complexity similarly. In other words, do juries, attorneys, and judges agree on whether a case is complex? A second question involves the determinants of case complexity for each group. That is, what factors make a case more (or less) complex for juries, attorneys, and judges. This article explores both questions from an empirical perspective with the benefit of recent data from four jurisdictions. The data are important because, within the context of criminal cases, they permit analyses of agreement levels among the three key actors. Results suggest that the three sets of actors possess slightly different views on whether cases are complex. Judges reported the lowest levels of case complexity; jurors the highest. Moreover, important variation exists in terms of what made cases complex for each group. The results implicate legal reform efforts. No clear consensus exists among the critical actors on complexity perceptions. Many of the variables that influence case complexity fall outside of reformers’ reach. Variables within the reach of policy do not appear to systematically reduce case complexity.

Date of Authorship for this Version

June 2004

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Criminal Law Commons