A jury trial is an important part of the American Judicial System. The citizens of the community make up the jury. The jury passes the final verdict of guilty or not guilty in a criminal case or liable/not liable in a civil case. A jury trial is unique to the American Judicial System.
Juries are representatives of common people in the United States. Therefore, this power is vested in the jury and not with lawyers and Judges. Citizens get an opportunity to connect to the constitution and perpetuate the American system of laws.
By participating as a member of the jury in a court trial, the jurors get insights into the judicial system and their communities.
A jury may be a group of eight to twelve people.
How the jury works?
The jury comprises a group of American citizens who are peers of the defendant.
The facts of the case are presented before the jury in the presence of the judge in the courtroom.
The public prosecutor presents the case on behalf of the community if it is a criminal case. The prosecution needs to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution tries to prove the charges against the defendant based on facts, i.e. the evidence collected and witnesses who testify against the defendant.
If it is a civil case, the attorney of the plaintiff presses charges against the defendant and tries to get a verdict in the favor of his client.
After the hearing is over, the members of the jury proceed to the jury room to discuss and reach a verdict. Jurors are allowed to retain the indictment, the exhibits, and their notes.
If the jury reaches a unanimous verdict, it is sent to the Judge. However, a unanimous verdict is not a must always. If 10 out 12 jurors agree it is considered as a final verdict. In some cases, there is a “hung jury” where the jury cannot arrive at a common verdict. Such matters may require another trial.
One may ask, if the jury passes the verdict, then what is the role of the Judge in a court trial?
A judge presides over a court trial. He ensures that the verdict of the case is decided on its merit. Jurors do not have the legal knowledge and their decisions are based on facts rather than legalities. A Judge, on the other hand, has the legal expertise and in-depth knowledge. Therefore, he views a case from a legal perspective. He makes sure that the final verdict of the case is supported by the evidence produced.
The jury reaches a verdict based on all the evidence produced in the court under the direction of the judge as regards the legal interpretation of the case. The jurors are also allowed to ask their queries to the judge through notes passed to the foreman/forewoman of the jury during the trial.
The Judge has the power to overturn the verdict of the jury in rare cases. A judge can overturn a “guilty” verdict by a jury in a criminal case only if all the evidence presented most favorable to the prosecution fails to establish the guilt of the defendant.
Although the jury decides the verdict, it is the judge who decides the penalty/punishment.