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What do you believe are the advantages and disadvantages to a trial with a jury?

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Instead of a jury, what then?  Bench trials may have their purpose, like proceedings for a traffic violation, but for important civic and criminal proceedings, juries are the superior system, since involving a jury limits the power of the judge.  For all the points mentioned, juries have their problems, but having the citizenry participate in court proceedings serves to underscore the principle of government by and for the people; in short, it is a democratic institution.  Juries have to power to determine was is factual, and decide accordingly upon guilt or innocence; the judge states and executes the law.  However, juries have a key power little discussed which provide a check on the other branches of government, namely, they have the power of nullification.  Legislatures are, in theory, random collections of citizens that make laws.  Juries are a random collection of citizens that may nullify law -- in other words, determine that a law broken in a civil or criminal proceeding should not be a law at all.  This was to provide a judicial check on the legislature--that if a bad law is enacted, and people are put to trial because of it, even if guilty by the codification of the law, the jury can determine that no crime or civil infraction occurred because that particular law shouldn't exist, and their nullification effectively repeals that law. This power allows juries to exercise a check and balance and helps insure a well functioning democratic government.

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The fallibility of human beings as jurors, is probably the biggest disadvantage to the jury trial.  Especially troubling to me as an educator is to consider the proliferation of grade inflation and the number of students we are sending out into the world who think they are really, really smart because they've never gotten anything but A's; it's easier to give students A's.  It keeps "helicopter parents" at bay, and students tend to like these teachers better.  The idea of having someone sitting on a jury who thinks of him or herself as really, really smart, when in fact he or she really, really isn't does not inspire confidence in the judicial process as our Framers intended it to work.  And we are sending a lot of really, really not-so-smart kids out into the world, thinking of themselves as geniuses.  On a different note, I'll never forget hearing one of the jurors at the conclusion of the O.J. Simpson trial saying, among other things, "I had my reasonable doubts."  This woman clearly had no idea that "reasonable doubt" is a serious and important legal concept, not a casual catch phrase.  It was disheartening to know that in her mind, she had carried out her civic duty exactly as it was intended; while her efforts were no doubt sincere, she was clearly not understanding the gravity of the concept of reasonable doubt.

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The jury system is a reflection of the Framers' hopes in the Constitution.  The theory of an active and concerned citizenry is a compelling one and it is very logical that such awareness would be what the Framers envisioned to assist in the determination of guilt of accused individuals.  The theory might have some challenges in its practice, to which previous posts have alluded.  Yet, the theoretical hopes of the Framers cannot be overlooked in seeing the potential positives of a jury system, despite how the reality might sometimes dissipate such hopes.

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Trial by jury certainly doesn't guarantee a perfect path to justice, but it offers criminal defendants certain advantages--at least in theory. A majority of twelve people must be convinced of a person's guilt in order to convict, and a unanimous vote to convict is required in capital cases. For a defendant, there is safety in numbers. Getting a majority of twelve people or all twelve to agree to convict would be harder for a prosecutor, for instance, than working with a jury of six, eight, or even ten. The evidence would be compelling to accomplish a conviction. Also, twelve people from different walks of life bring a variety of expertise and life experience to the jury.

Most of the disadvantages are rooted in this one fact: Jurors are human beings subject to human failings. Some are smart; some are not. Some are well educated; some are not. Some are open-minded; some are not. Some take responsibility seriously; some don't. Also, since avoiding jury duty has become a minor American art form, drawing a jury of one's peers is not always likely. Finally, a jury can suffer from "group think," composed of people who automatically accept the prevailing social and political thinking of the community or the area of the country in which they live.

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A trial is either by jury or a bench-trial (meaning by judge only).

Juries have a way of letting emotion and circumstance influence their decision, whereas a judge might be much less inclined to focus on anything other than the correct legal result.  For instance, if a defendant is on trial for murder, but claims that the act of killing was done in self-defense, the defendant may want to appeal to the jury members' emotions.  Sometimes the evidence (witnesses, police reports, etc.) may not completely support the defendant's case, but a sympathetic jury might still come back with a verdict of not-guilty. 

On the other hand, if the jury is not likely to sympathize with the defendant, but the evidence is strong in the defendant's favor, the defendant may prefer a bench trial.  Perhaps there is strong evidence that the defendant did not commit this crime, but the defendant has a previous criminal record which could hurt his/her chances of success with a jury who does not like criminals.

Whether to seek a trial by jury is ordinarily going to depend on the specific facts of the case-at-hand.

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