A jury is a body of persons convened to render a verdict (finding of fact) on a legal question officially submitted to them, or to set a penalty or judgement in a jury trial of a court of law.
In most criminal justice systems which require juries, panels are initially selected at random from the adult population of the district served by the court concerned. Individuals once selected are required by law to serve, with exemptions possible for people whose job in some way precludes them (for instance, teachers, doctors, or people who themselves work in the criminal justice system), are caring for young children, or who have health problems. They may also be excused from a particular case (but not from jury duty as such) by the judge. Most jurisdictions limit jury service to citizens. A common method for drafting jurors is to draw them at random from electoral rolls.
In the United States, potential jurors form the jury in waiting or jury pool . Jurors are picked by a selection process. If the jury in waiting is exhausted without the jury being completed the clerk of the court has to ask the jury assembly area to send more jurors.
Selected jurors are generally subjected to a system of examination whereby both the prosecution (or plaintiff, in a civil case) and defense can object to a juror. In common law countries, this is known as voir dire. The method and scope of the possible rejections varies between countries:
- In England these objections would have to be very well based, such as the defendant knowing a potential juror, to be allowed.
- Some jurisdictions, such as France and New Zealand give both the defense and prosecution a specific number of unconditional peremptory challenges. No justifications have to be brought to exclude a specific juror. Generally, defense attorneys exclude jurors who have professions or backgrounds similar to that of the victim and who could thus feel an emotional link to them.
- Some systems allow argument over whether a juror's particular background or beliefs make them biased and therefore unsuitable for service on the jury. In the United States, and probably other nations, it is hardly unknown for citizens to quite deliberately get out of jury duty (for example by mentioning knowledge of legal concepts).
Typically, a jury panel has twelve members, sometimes with a number of "alternates" who follow the trial but are not included in the deliberations unless a jury member is unable to continue for some reason.
The jurors hear the cases presented by both the defense and prosecution, and in some jurisdictions a summing-up from the judge. They then retire as a group to consider a verdict.
The actual procedure differs between countries.
In France and similarly organized jurisdictions, the jury sits on an equal footing with three professional judges. The jury and judges first consider the questions of guilt. Then, if applicable, they consider the penalty to apply.
In the United States, if no verdict can be reached by the jury (a situation sometimes referred to as a hung jury ), a mistrial is declared, and the case must be retried with a newly constituted jury. The jury, in most cases, only rules on questions of facts on guilt; setting the penalty is reserved for the judge.
There is no set format for jury deliberations, and the jury will take a period of time to settle into discussing the evidence. In theory electing a foreman is the first step, although for a short or straightforward case this might not in fact happen other than picking someone to deliver the verdict at the end having arrived at it.
The foreman if elected will chair the discussions and it is his or her job to try and steer the jury towards a conclusion. The first step will typically be to find out the initial feeling or reaction to the case, which may be by a show of hands. The jury will then attempt to arrive at a consensus verdict.
The exchanges of views as people with opinions that differ from the emerging consensus explain them will air the issues involved in the case and often as a result points will arise from the trial that were not specifically discussed during it. The result of these discussions is likely to be that one interpretation is shown to be the most reasonable, and a verdict is thus arrived at.
Some jurisdictions allow majority verdicts in criminal cases if a juror becomes unfit to continue, or if a judge permits it when a jury is deadlocked. Certain jurisdictions require a minimum number of jurors to agree, but in others (notably Scotland) a simple majority is acceptable. Other than that, there are no restrictions on how a jury may proceed to reach such a verdict, and no set time limit. Occasionally juries deliberate for several days. Usually initially a judge will instruct a jury not to contemplate a majority verdict. After a time, if no verdict is forthcoming, the judge will recall the jury and instruct them that he is prepared to consider one.
In English law, the jury's deliberations must not be disclosed outside the jury, even after the case, and to repeat parts of them is contempt of court and can result in imprisonment. In the USA this rule does not apply, and sometimes jurors have made remarks that called into question whether a verdict was properly arrived at.
Sometimes a jury will take a wider view than the judge's summing up, and reach a verdict influenced by or based on their view of the public interest - that is, whether they think it right, all things considered, for the defendant to be convicted of a crime. Verdicts which appear not to apply the law to the evidence are sometimes called "perverse" verdicts.
Imposition of penalties
In the United States, some juries are also empowered to consider some aspects of a defendant's sentence, if the defendant has been convicted. This is notably now a requirement in all death penalty cases.
This is not the practice in most other legal systems based on the English tradition, in which judges retain sole responsibility for deciding sentences according to law. The exception is the award of damages in English law libel cases, although a judge is now obliged to make a recommendation to the jury as to the appropriate amount.
The United States
In the US, juries are used in both criminal law and civil law trials, though they are quite different.
In criminal law, separate juries are convened to decide if a suspect should be indicted (formally charged with a crime) - a grand jury - and if the suspect should be found guilty - a petit jury . In many areas, depending upon the law, a third jury will determine what the penalty should be or recommend what the penalty should be in the penalty phase. When used alone the term jury usually refers to a petit jury.
American criminal justice procedure whereby, in each court district, a group of 16-23 citizens hold an inquiry on criminal complaints brought by the prosecutor and decide if a trial is warranted, in which case an indictment is issued. In general, the size of juries tends to be larger if the crime alleged is more serious. If a Grand Jury rejects a proposed indictment it is known as a "no bill"; if they accept to endorse a proposed indictment it is known as a "true bill".
As on the question of a defendant's guilt in a jury trial, the role of the jury is the "finder of fact", while the Judge has the sole responsibility of interpreting the appropriate law and instructing the jury accordingly. Occasionally, a jury may find the defendant "not guilty" even though he violated the law if the jury thinks that the law is invalid or unjust. This is commonly referred to as jury nullification. While such practice is in violation of the oath taken by jurors prior to hearing a case, it still occurs from time to time. When there is no jury ("bench trial"), the Judge makes factual rulings in addition to legal ones.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to jury trial in both state and federal criminal proceedings, although in practice most criminal actions in the US are resolved by plea bargain. Juries are also used in many civil cases in the United States, and the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly protects the right to a jury trial in civil cases tried in the United States District Courts.
Jury selection is a rather complicated process. A jury is made up from a list of citizens living in the jurisdiction of the court. When selected, being a juror is in principle compulsory. However, jurors can be dismissed for several reasons and many people are released from serving on a jury. People can, for instance, claim hardship if they take care of their children, or claim to be biased. It is sometimes joked that a jury is not "a jury of one's peers", but is instead "twelve people too stupid to get out of jury duty." (Homer Simpson famously quoted this).
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