Defendants can exert their right to a trial by jury in criminal and some civil cases. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the accused the right to a trial by an impartial jury. Juries weigh the evidence and testimony presented to determine the facts, but judges rule on the questions of law. This legal method of determining the outcome of an issue has disadvantages that may outweigh advantages. The jury system holds a great deal of power that has the potential for abuse.
Most jurors have little or no training in matters of law. The only legal requirement for a juror is that he knows the facts involved in case being tried. The judge guides the juries in determining the facts they can admit into evidence and the ones they must exclude. Many jurors encounter complicated problems far beyond their training and experience. The lack of legal knowledge allows prosecutors to easily convince and persuade jurors to believe their assertions.
A jury trial presents a disadvantage for defendants when prejudice is an issue. Local biases and prejudices influence the outcome of many trials. The jurors disregard logic presented by a judge or defence lawyer, because of past experiences or moral sentiment. Prejudiced jurors have unjustly convicted innocent defendants. Stereotyping and racial profiling contribute to miscarriage of justice in some cases.
Opponents of jury trials contend they are inefficient and ineffective. They claim juries cost the system far more than their worth. A jury trial is not only expensive, but time consuming as well. Officials seek ways to reduce court costs by encouraging the practice of plea bargaining and negotiation prior to trials. However, this practice gives the prosecution an unfair advantage and denies a defendant his right to trial before a jury of his peers.
In a standard jury trial, the prosecution must convince a majority of 12 people of a defendant's guilt. This is a simple process, if the evidence is compelling. Jurors are human beings first and jurors second. Many will just go along with the majority, even when they are not completely convinced that the defendant is guilty. Some don't want to serve in the first place and will do anything to end the trial and go home. This action results in unjust verdicts.
Intelligence Level of Jurors
Most jury members don't completely understand the laws they must follow. Scientific evidence is difficult for some jurors to comprehend. The average juror does not understand complex evidence in some trials regardless of his qualifications. It is difficult for jurors to assess the reliability of witnesses or evidence. Many jurors in civil trials involving financial matters do not grasp the evidence presented.