Most court cases come to a conclusion after a jury has made its decision on whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. However, trial by jury is not always guaranteed, and the roles of juries may vary depending on the type of case.
For criminal trials, the offences range from identity theft to murder. Though the crimes may vary in nature, they are all punishable by harsh consequences if a defendant is found guilty by a jury. On the other hand, civil cases involve offences such as traffic tickets, which are not considered to be crimes.
Trial juries usually consist of 12 members. The verdict must usually be unanimous, though verdicts with less than a unanimous vote have been allowed, but not for a federal criminal trial.
Grand juries traditionally consist of 23 members who determine whether the facts presented by the prosecution in a case warrant indictment and a trial. Grand juries occur both at the federal and state levels. They also may be responsible in certain states for investigating public corruption or monitoring jail conditions.
Roles of the Jury
The jury in a criminal trial has the responsibility of listening to the evidence and determining the outcome of the trial and the fate of the defendant. It is important to note that the defendant is only found "guilty" or "not guilty" in criminal cases. For civil cases, the terms "liable" or "not liable" are used.
The Judge Steps In
Though the jury determines the outcome of a trial based on facts drawn from the evidence, the judge still plays a big role. Judges determine which evidence can be considered by the jury, and they instruct jurors on the rules of weighing facts. It is then the judge's responsibility to listen to the jury's decision and sentence the defendant.
Though jury duty is a civic responsibility, most people dread finding the court-issued summons envelope in their mailbox. But jury service is a crucial civic duty that protects the liberties and rights of Americans, making it necessary for our justice system.