A new law signed by outgoing Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on December 19, 2014 reduces the number of jurors in civil cases in Illinois from twelve to six. This change in Illinois law and practice was pressed by the plaintiffs’ bar, and comes into effect on June 1, 2015. In the federal courts in Illinois, civil trials are heard by jury panels of at least six but fewer than twelve under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 48 in most cases.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in the 1970s that juries composed of at least six members are constitutional. Reducing the number of jurors in civil cases will save money. Illinois government is certainly in a cash crunch and the new state law also increases daily juror pay. It is believed that the reduction in the number of needed civil jurors will offset the unfunded mandate.
Perhaps most important, commentators have noted that smaller jury panels are likely to be less diverse and predictable. Literature and research notes that smaller juries tend to recall fewer facts. With fewer jurors deliberating, minority or dissenting viewpoints are less persuasive and less likely to be maintained. At least one national study noted that a 10-2 split is more powerful than a 5-1 split. Studies have shown that there is far greater variability in award amounts by smaller juries when compared to larger juries. The mathematical law of large numbers explains that the larger the sample size, the closer the average matches the population value. As a result, we anticipate that this will make pre-trial case evaluation less reliable and trial results in Illinois more volatile and less predictable.