ABA President Appoints Dervan Chair of the ABA Commission on the American Jury

Lucian Dervan head shot

Lucian E. Dervan, associate professor of law and director of criminal justice studies at Belmont University College of Law, has accepted two new appointments with the American Bar Association.

Earlier this year, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez appointed Professor Dervan as chair of the ABA Commission on the American Jury. The Commission was created in 2003 with a vision to bring four ABA groups together to focus on the importance of the jury in the American democratic tradition and to address the key aspects of jury composition, comprehension and culture. The four ABA groups represented on the Commission include the Criminal Justice Section, the Section of Litigation, the Tort, Trial and Insurance Practice Section and the Judicial Division.

Of his appointment, Professor Dervan said, “I am honored to have been selected for this important role within the American Bar Association.  Though the jury has been a core element of the American legal system since the founding period, we have witnessed its gradual disappearance over many decades. In federal criminal cases today, for example, almost 98% of convictions come not from a trial, but from a plea of guilty. I am excited to be working to examine the role of the jury in both modern civil and criminal cases and to consider why the number of jury trials are diminishing, the resulting impact and how to address this phenomenon.” 

Early next year, the Commission will issue a report examining the disappearing trial and the results of a multi-year data collection effort by the Commission to help identify the reasons for this trend.

Professor Dervan’s work as chair of the Commission on the American Jury will pair well with his research on plea bargaining, a leading factor in the diminishing trial in the criminal setting, and his continued work with the ABA Criminal Justice Section. Last year, Professor Dervan served as chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section and, in that capacity, created several new task forces to examine pressing issues. Among those task forces was a Plea Bargaining Task Force, which Professor Dervan now co-chairs.

The ABA CJS Plea Bargaining Task Force will closely examine the role of plea bargaining in our system of criminal justice over the next year. The first goal of the Task Force will be to consider how plea bargaining has developed over time and what advantages and challenges have resulted.  The second goal of the Task Force will be to consider the best path forward and potential solutions to the challenges identified by the group. It is hoped that these recommendations will include both broad policy-oriented goals for the criminal justice system and, where necessary, specific recommendations for changes in the way plea bargaining operates within the larger criminal justice environment. 

Importantly, the task force will examine these issues from the perspective of all those involved in the criminal justice system, including prosecutors, defenders, defendants, judges, victims and others. As a result, the task force includes representatives from numerous groups actively involved in the criminal justice community with diverse perspectives to ensure that the recommendations reflect a broad consensus regarding the best path forward.

Plea bargaining is a dominant force in today’s criminal justice systems. In the federal system, for example, pleas of guilt account for over 97% of all convictions. In the state systems, the number is approximately 94% to 95%. Of this number, the U.S. government recently estimated that 75% are the result of plea agreements between the defendant and the government that include offers of leniency or threats of additional punishment.

Professor Dervan said of his role with the Task Force, “Plea bargaining, for the most part, rose in the shadows of the American criminal justice system, and I am eager for this opportunity to more closely examine that rise and consider how we might best proceed in a world that is, as the U.S. Supreme Court has remarked, ‘a system of pleas….’” 

You can learn more about Professor Dervan’s research on plea bargaining here and you can follow him on Twitter at @LucianDervan.