Jury (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
In trials, a group of people who are selected and sworn to inquire into matters of fact and to reach a verdict on the basis of the evidence presented to them.
In U.S. law, decisions in many civil and criminal trials are made by a jury. Considerable power is vested in this traditional body of ordinary men and women, who are charged with deciding matters of fact and delivering a verdict of guilt or innocence based on the evidence in a case. Derived from its historical counterpart in English COMMON LAW, trial by jury has had a central role in U.S. courtrooms since the colonial era, and it is firmly established as a basic guarantee in the U.S. Constitution. Modern juries are the result of a long series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted this constitutional liberty and, in significant ways, extended it.
The historical roots of the jury date to the eighth century A.D. Long before becoming an impartial body, during the reign of Charlemagne, juries interrogated prisoners. In the twelfth century, the Normans brought the jury to England, where its accusatory function remained: Citizens acting as jurors were required to come forward as witnesses and to give evidence before the monarch's judges. Not until the fourteenth century did jurors cease to be witnesses and begin to assume their modern role as triers of fact. This role was...
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Juries (Great American Court Cases)
A jury is a group of persons selected from the community that is charged with hearing a legal case and delivering a verdict on it. Juries are used in both civil and criminal cases, and they base their decisions on testimony and other evidence that is presented at trial. In death penalty cases, they may be charged with imposing a sentence on a criminal defendant.
The concept of the jury system can be traced to Athens, Greece, around 400 B.C. These earliest juries heard arguments in legal cases but did not apply law. According to author John Guinther, quoting Aristotle, juries in Athens instead decided cases based on their "understanding of general justice." The vast empire of ancient Rome rejected the idea of juries, opting instead for a professional court system in which ordinary citizens had no role. The dark ages that followed the fall of the Roman empire had little use for law, not to mention juries, and the jury system of justice lay dormant until the twelfth century. Around that time, Italian scholars revived the rule of law in Europe with the force of their arguments.
In Great Britain, the jury system was not used until the twelfth century. Prior to that time, the Catholic Church dominated the legal system with its ecclesiastical courts. Judgment and punishment were carried out by the Church through the "ordeal," a form of torture...
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Juries (Supreme Court Drama)
A jury is a group of ordinary citizens that hears and decides a legal case. The jury's decision is called a verdict. Juries base their verdicts on testimony from witnesses and other evidence. A jury's verdict represents a community's opinion about who should win a legal case. Jurors, then, play an important role in the American system of justice.
History of the Jury
Historians have traced the jury system back to Athens, Greece, around 400 BC. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, recorded that juries decided cases based on their understanding of general justice. The ancient Roman Empire, however, did not use juries. A professional court system decided cases without ordinary citizens. The Dark Ages that followed the fall of the Roman Empire had little law and no use for juries.
Great Britain did not use a jury system until the twelfth century AD. Prior to then, the Catholic Church's courts controlled the legal system. The ordeal was a popular way of deciding criminal cases. If the accused could survive physical torture, the court declared him innocent. Compurgation was a method of resolving civil cases, those between individual citizens. The person who brought the most friends to support his side of the case won.
In the twelfth century AD, King Henry II gave Great Britain its first jury system for deciding disputes over land. Later, his son King John was a ruthless monarch who regularly seized the land and families of landowners who could not pay their debts on time. In 1215, a group of landowners confronted King John at knifepoint and forced him to sign the Magna Carta. That historic document gave British citizens the right to have a jury trial before being "imprisoned or seized or exiled or in any way destroyed."
The Right to Jury Trials in the United States
The English jury system migrated to the American colonies. Great Britain, however, did not allow jury trials in all cases in the colonies. Some cases were bench trials, which means a judge decided them from his bench. Because colonial judges depended on the British monarch for their jobs and the amount of their salaries, they often were unfair to the colonists. When Thomas Jefferson and the Second Continental Congress wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776, they listed unfair judges and the lack of jury trials among their reasons for breaking ties with Great Britain.
The U.S. Constitution mentions jury trials in three places. Article III says that all criminal trials, except for impeachment, must be jury trials. The Sixth Amendment repeats this right and adds that juries must be impartial, which means fair, neutral, and open-minded. In Duncan v. Louisiana (1968), the Supreme Court said the right to a jury trial applies in all criminal cases in which the penalty can be imprisonment for more than six months.
The Seventh Amendment guarantees a jury trial in all civil cases in which the amount in dispute is greater than twenty dollars. This amendment applies only to the federal government and not to the states. Most state constitutions, however, give citizens the right to jury trials in both criminal and civil cases.
Choosing a jury for a case happens in two stages. The first stage is called assembling the venire. The venire is a large group of citizens selected from voting, tax, driving, or address records. This group acts as a pool from which the court selects juries for individual cases. To be selected for the venire, citizens must satisfy certain requirements. For example, many states require jurors to be over eighteen, able to read, and without any serious criminal convictions.
Federal and state courts used to restrict jury service to white males. The U.S. Supreme Court ended that with two important cases. In Strauder v. West Virginia (1879), the Court said the Fourteenth Amendment makes it illegal to exclude African Americans from jury service. In Taylor v. Louisiana (1975), the Court struck down a law that tended to exclude women from jury service in Louisiana. With the Federal Jury Service and Selection Act of 1968, Congress required federal jury venires to contain a fair cross section of the community.
The second stage in jury selection is called voir dire. Judges conduct voir dire by asking the members of the venire questions to make sure they can consider a case impartially and deliver a fair verdict. Under the jury system in England, jurors usually were selected because of their knowledge of the case. The American system of impartiality requires that jurors know as little as possible about a case before serving on a jury. That way they can render a verdict based on the evidence in court rather than what they have learned on the outside.
Attorneys also participate in voir dire. Sometimes they ask questions through the judge, while other times they pose questions directly to potential jurors. After questioning, the parties can strike people from the jury using jury challenges. Attorneys can make an unlimited number of challenges "for cause." A challenge is for cause when the attorney has a good reason to excuse a potential juror from service. For example, if a potential juror is the defendant's brother, the prosecutor can challenge him for cause and dismiss him from service on the case.
Attorneys also get a limited number of peremptory challenges. Attorneys do not have to explain their reason for using a peremptory challenge. It gives them a chance to get rid of jurors they think will be against their clients' case. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has limited the use of peremptory challenges. In Batson v. Kentucky (1986), the Court said prosecutors cannot use peremptory challenges to dismiss potential jurors because of their race. In J.E.B. v. Alabama (1994), the Court said attorneys may not use peremptory challenges to dismiss potential jurors because of their gender.
Voir dire ends when the court finds the right number of jurors who can render a fair decision and are not challenged by the attorneys. The English jury system typically used twelve jurors. Legend says this number came from the number of Jesus Christ's apostles in the Bible's New Testament. Most juries in America have twelve jurors. Some states use as few as six jurors. In Ballew v. Georgia (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court said a five member jury is too small to decide a case fairly.
After the jury hears the evidence in a case, the judge instructs the jury on what law to apply. The jury then retires to the jury room to deliberate, which means to discuss the case and reach a verdict. The jury reaches a verdict by deciding what really happened in the case, called determining the facts, and then applying the law to those facts to determine who wins.
At the federal level and in most states, a jury verdict must be unanimous. That means all twelve jurors must agree on the verdict. Some states allow jury verdicts by super majorities of ten or eleven out of the twelve jurors. If the jury cannot agree on a verdict, it is called a hung jury. A hung jury requires the judge to dismiss the entire case without a decision.
The jury's verdict is not always the final decision in the case. If the judge thinks the verdict is wrong, she can either order a new trial or enter the verdict she thinks is correct. There is one important exception. When a jury finds a defendant not guilty in a criminal case, the judge must accept the verdict.
When the jury reaches a verdict in a civil case, it also decides how much money the winning party receives. In a criminal case, the jury usually only decides guilt or innocence. If the verdict is guilty, the judge determines the criminal's sentence. Many southern states allow the jury to determine the sentence within certain guidelines. In cases in which the defendant faces the death penalty, however, the federal government and most states allow the jury to determine the sentence or at least make a recommendation.
Suggestions for further reading
Guinther, John. The Jury in America. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1988.
Summer, Lila E. The American Heritage History of the Bill of Rights: The Seventh Amendment. New Jersey: Silver Burdett Press, Inc., 1991.
Wolf, Robert V. The Jury System. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.
Zerman, Melvyn Bernard. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Inside the American Jury System. New York: Crowell, 1981.