What are the pros and cons of a jury system?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The role of juries in the criminal justice system is to reach verdicts based upon the facts presented to them by prosecutors and defense lawyers. As juries are determining issues of fact, rather than law, then it would seem perfectly natural to allow laypeople to decide whether or not a criminal defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Legal matters are decided by judges; matters of fact by laypeople. This is a simple, straightforward division of labor between law and fact which the jury system perfectly reflects.

As decisions in criminal trials are arrived at by ordinary members of the public, their verdicts are more likely to be accepted by society as a whole. If jurors weren't laypeople but jurists (legal experts), then the criminal justice system would be seen by many as being too distant from the general public and too far from the vast majority of the population. Under these circumstances, the administration of justice would be an elite pursuit, one divorced from any deep roots in society. The reputation of justice would then, in all likelihood, be significantly diminished, being seen as little more than the expression of a narrow class interest.

That said, there are drawbacks to the jury system. For one thing, juries tend not to be as representative of society as its defenders would have us believe. One of the main sources of unfairness in the American criminal justice system is the unconscious bias of white juries in relation to minority defendants.

Nor is the process of jury selection anywhere near as random as we might think. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently remove jurors to get a jury composition that will strengthen their case.

As jurors aren't legal experts, they can often be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information presented to them, leading in many cases to lengthy, drawn-out trials. Not all jurors take their responsibility seriously. If their lives are disrupted for any appreciable length of time, then it's only natural that they'll want to return back to normal life as soon as possible. Under these conditions, the chance of a rushed verdict increases substantially and with it the very real danger of injustice. 

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Countries all over the world use some form of a jury system, presumably because they have not found a better way to consistently ensure that defendants receive the fairest possible trial; however, that does not mean the system is without flaws. There are both advantages and disadvantages to a jury system.

The advantages of a jury system include the fact that the public generally accepts jury verdicts, and lay people, their "peers," are more trusted, often, than judges. A jury is, in theory, unbiased because it is not part of the justice system, and jurors are allowed to apply common sense and local values to the evidence and facts of the case. It is an efficient system, more than eight hundred years old, and it provides citizens the opportunity to actually be involved in their communities.

The disadvantages of a jury system include the vetting process, which precludes the random selection of peers, and the inability to assess jury bias after the verdict has been determined. Jurors are human and they make mistakes; even worse, jurors might come to a hasty verdict to suit their own desires to be finished with a case (especially in very long trials). Jurors might also be easily influenced by presentation and showmanship over substance, and they are not likely to have a complete understanding of every point of law raised in the case. 

It is clear that there are risks to having a jury trial; however, it is part of a system of justice, at least in America, which has generally worked and will undoubtedly continue to be the law of the land. 

For a more extensive list of advantages and disadvantages, refer to the link sixthformlaw link below.