Category: Education

Why Jury Trials are Important to a Democratic Society

A Q & A with

1. The American jury trial is a constitutional right. The founding fathers believed
that the right to be tried by a jury of your peers was so important that it merited inclusion in
the highest law of the land. Amendments 6 and 7 of the Bill of Rights contain this right:
Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district
wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the
nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses
in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Amendment VII
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and
no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

2. The jury trial is a vital part of America’s system of checks and balances.
“Checks and balances” means that the judicial branch of government is equal to the other two
branches (executive and legislative) and the courts can overturn laws or acts of government
that violate constitutional rights. Our system of checks and balances requires a strong judicial
branch. A strong judicial branch requires a healthy jury trial option. Jury service is your chance
to have a voice in the judicial branch of government.

3. The founding fathers included jury trials in the constitution because
jury trials prevent tyranny. The definition of tyranny is oppressive power exerted by
the government. Tyranny also exists when absolute power is vested in a single ruler. Jury trials
are the opposite of tyranny because the citizens on the jury are given the absolute power to
make the final decision.

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The Judge and The Jury

From: Judicial Learning Center

There are many rules that dictate how things will occur in the courtroom before and during a federal trial.  These rules and procedures help to make sure every court proceeding is fair.  This consistent, predictable system also helps us to have confidence in the rulings of the judge and jury.  In federal court, the jury decides the verdict.  It’s the judge’s job to act as referee, ruling on issues of law before and during the trial.  Federal judges keep up to date on many laws and rules such as: Federal Laws, Case Laws, State Laws and Federal Rulings.

History of the Jury

The U.S. Constitution provides for trial by jury in most situations.  Therefore, even though the judge presides over the activities in the courtroom and rules on issues of law, the decisions about facts are made by ordinary, average citizens.  The jury system is not an American invention.  Trial by jury and the grand jury existed elsewhere before our states were even colonies.

The Grand Jury

The grand jury is different from the trial jury.  The 5th Amendment states that no one can be indicted for serious crimes without first having a group of citizens, a grand jury, agree there is enough evidence to formally bring charges.  Even though an accused person is considered innocent until found guilty at a trial, simply being accused of a crime (indicted) is enough to disrupt one’s life and reputation.  The grand jury is used to ensure prosecuting attorneys do not make reckless decisions when charging someone with a serious crime.

Petit Jury

Trial jurors are sometimes called petit jurors.  Petit jurors are also average citizens who are called upon to participate in the trial process.  Before someone accused of a crime can be put in prison, they need to be found guilty by a group of people from the community who, despite their varied background and experiences, can come to agreement on the facts in the case.  Though trial by jury is an important right in America, a criminal defendant can waive this right and have the case decided by a Judge alone.  If that happens, it is called a bench trial.  In the 7th Amendment, the Bill of Rights also guarantees you the right to jury trial for civil matters.

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diverse jury of jurors sitting in a jury

Why Jury Diversity Matters

From: Minnesota Public Radio

By: Bob Collins

It was a short first day in the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez, charged in the killing of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last summer. The jury pool of about 50 people is getting the afternoon off to finish questionnaires about their potential as jurors.

There’s no question on it asking the jurors their race; that’s illegal in Minnesota and elsewhere. So reporters were left today to look at individuals and try to figure out race and ethnicity.

Various reports from the courtroom said a half dozen of the 50 people in the first jury pool appeared to be African-American; another handful appeared to be people of color. For comparison sake, the demographic makeup of Ramsey County is 70 percent of the population is white, and in Hennepin County, 75 percent of the population is white.

The makeup of the jury will be inspected closely, of course, because of allegations that race is at the heart of many shootings in which African-Americans end up dead at the hands of police.

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Image of Jury with black shadows of people, representing a full jury.

The Jury Pool

From: ABA

Ever wonder how the jury pool is assembled?

The trial jury in either a civil or criminal case is chosen from a list called a venire or jury pool that has been compiled by the court. The method of selecting names for the venire varies. In many states the list is compiled from voter registration lists or drivers license lists. (In some jurisdictions, the federal and state courts use the same lists for a given area.) The jury pool is sometimes compiled with the help of jury commissioners appointed by the presiding judge.

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