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Florida Law Review


The American criminal justice system is fundamentally democratic and should reflect an ideal of citizenship that is equal, participatory, and deliberative. Unfortunately, the outcomes of criminal cases are now almost always determined by professionals (prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges) instead of by juries. This overly bureaucratized system of adjudication silences the voice of the people. A better system would strengthen “criminal justice citizenship,” which refers to the right of the citizenry to participate, directly and indirectly, in the criminal justice system and to deliberate in its workings.

The three key principles of criminal justice citizenship are membership, participation, and deliberation. Membership refers to who can participate and whether they can participate on an equal basis. Where the justice system adheres to this principle, people enjoy a greater sense of belonging, solidarity, and trust in government. Participation refers to public participation in democratic processes, such as jury service. Deliberation refers to structured dialogues between lay persons that affect governmental decisions. Institutions and procedures must be designed to give the people an important role in government, but the nature and extent of that role should be limited by other considerations, such as procedural accuracy and preventing racial discrimination.

This theory of criminal justice citizenship has important applications to jury trials. Regarding membership, providing broad and equal opportunities for jury service is necessary for democratic legitimacy and fair and effective deliberations. Regarding deliberation, jury trials need to be more transparent; the prevailing procedures of jury deliberations need to be modified; and unanimous verdicts must be required to protect the voice of potentially marginalized jurors. Regarding participation, jury trials are so rare that it will be necessary to improve criminal justice citizenship by democratically reforming other aspects of the criminal justice system, such as plea bargaining. The overarching principle is that the people need a more significant role in criminal adjudication, not only because popular participation is good for defendants, but also because it strengthens American democracy.

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College of Law



Suggested Citation

Daniel S. McConkie, Jr., Criminal Justice Citizenship, 72 Fla. L. Rev. 1023 (2020).

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