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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