The Jury System
The History of Juries
Before jury trial existed there were three main ways of deciding guilt or innocence. Those three are trial by battle, the ordeal, and the compurgation. In trial by battle the person accused fought with the accuser or the accusers representative. If you won you showed innocence and if you lost you showed guilt. The ordeal was more of a physical test than a mental test. One ordeal required the person to swallow a large piece of food. If the person could do it they were innocent. If the person choked on the food it meant they were guilty. Compurigation was a system in which the accused person could be proven innocent if twelve citizens swore to his or her honesty.
A Jury Is ......
Most people think of juries in different ways. To the defense and prosecuting attorneys the jurors are a professional challenge, a group to be persuaded. To a defendant in a criminal trial the members of the jury are the most important people in the world because they have they have the right to grant freedom or in serious cases condemn the defendant to death. To the judge the jurors are honored guests who must all be treated according to a set of rules. The judge must not only restrict the juries access to information to that which the law condemns admissible in court, but must also ensure the jurors need for food and other comforts are met.
A jury must include 12 people (although many states have as few as six). It must hear evidence from both sides of the case and reach a unanimous verdict. The court has also decided that a unanimous verdict is not always required. A jury reaches its decision only after a lot of thoughtful deliberation and a jury has the power to decide only questions of fact not of law. Yet there are many exceptions to these rules and there are many different ways in which a jury runs. Courts find jurors by mail. A jury questionnaire is used to find jurors that are suitable to the case. After that a jury summons, which tells a citizen where and when he/she is to report for jury service. Jurors are randomly selected today from things like drivers license data banks, tax rolls, and voter registration listings.
The Three Kinds Of Juries
A jury is a group of citizens sworn in to reach a verdict based on evidence in a matter presented to them. In the United States, the law provides for three types of juries: (1) petit, (2) grand, and (3) coroners. A petit (small) jury is the most common form of jury. Until about 1970, juries consisted of 12 members and 1 or 2 alternate jurors. Today, some states use juries of as few as 6 members. A petit jury decides who is at fault and how much should be paid in damages. In a criminal trial the jury decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. In United States law a person is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court.
A grand jury consists of 16-23 members. There are two kinds of grand juries in the United States, charging and investigatory. A charging grand jury decides if there is plenty of evidence to try a person that is suspected. If the jury finds sufficient evidence, it makes a formal accusation, called an indictment against the person. The suspect is then tried by a petit jury. A coroners jury consists of 6 members. They have a study into the cause of death in cases that involve doubt.
Getting Selected for the Jury
Jurors are most likely selected from the community where the crime occurred. Jurors are notified by mail that they must report for jury service at a certain place and time. Yet some people never show up. The no-show rate has been estimated at 55%. Prospective jurors are warned that not showing up can translate into an attempt of court citation, but those who fail to show up are very rarely charged or punished.
Before becoming a jury member you must be questioned by the opposing lawyers, the trial judge, or both. This procedure is called voirdire. The lawyers can reject any person for cause, yet they have to state why that person shouldn't serve as a juror. For example- if the person is related or know someone well involved in the case. Lawyers are permitted a number of rejections which are called peremptory challenges. They have to give no reason for making theses challenges. A new trial can be ordered if the challenges are on account of race.
Making A Decision
The witnesses and evidence have been presented and attorneys from both sides have made their closing arguments. The judge has instructed the jury. Now the fate of the case is in the juries hands. Its decision time.
But how does a jury come to a decision? There is not a simple answer to this question. For one thing there are no strict guidelines for jurors to follow, no manual that will help them and tell them step by step what to do. The only action they are required to take is to select a fore person before deliberation begins. ( Although in some courts the judge has already done this for them.)