ABSTRACT

Criminal trials provide engaging and lively entertainment, but do the proceedings in the courtroom have any bearing on people's willingness to support the justice system and to comply with the law? Although a direct relationship between the work of trial courts and crime rates is difficult to discern, several arguments point to an indirect link between the criminal trial and legal compliance. First, scholars have argued that trials hold broad symbolic significance for a society, teaching lessons about the nature of law and legal institutions. Second, the jury that decides the case is said to be an important symbol of the role of the public in the legal process, which helps to provide legitimacy for the system and its verdicts. Third, the direct participation in the legal system that jurors experience is claimed to increase support for the legal system. A legal system that is seen as legitimate is more likely to encourage compliance with the law. In this chapter we review theoretical arguments and empirical research pertaining to the symbolic and other significance of the criminal jury trial and to the ways in which it may be related to crime control.