Why We Have a Jury

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You might have seen them in a movie or on television; a group of people seated in the courtroom who the attorney addresses, describing the details of a case and trying to convince them to vote one way or another. Maybe you’ve served on a jury, or you’ve heard your neighbor or co-worker complain about being called for jury duty. The role of a jury in the American legal system is vital to the proper carriage of justice and is a privilege many countries do not provide.

A jury is a group of 12 people responsible for evaluating evidence to decide whether an accused party is liable or not.

A jury is randomly selected to represent a cross-section of the community and offer the victim and accused parties the best chance at a fair trial. Every American citizen over the age of 18 is subject to being called for jury duty, though there may be situations in which a person is exempt from attending.

Just because you’re summoned for jury duty does not mean you will make it all the way to the jury box. First, the potential jurors must answer a series of questions from the judge and attorneys to ensure there is no preexisting bias that could sway the outcome of the case unfairly. Jurors who make it past this stage of questioning referred to as the “voir dire” will be required to sit in the jury box during trial and listen attentively as the attorneys tell the stories of their clients and prevent evidence for the jury to consider.

To be tried by a jury of our peers is a constitutional right.

Providing a fair jury for every trial is a cornerstone of the democratic spirit the United States was founded on. The practice of providing a jury was written into law in 1623 by the Plymouth colony, and the first trial to take place with a jury was in 1630. Having a jury ensures the power of the American legal system remains in-check and prevents the judicial branch from making decisions the citizens would strongly disagree with the logic of.

Many countries still don’t allow juries to take part in the trial process.

Having a jury is a privilege that many countries do not currently provide their citizens with, inevitably leading to increases in the miscarriage of justice. The value of allowing the voice of the people to speak into the legal process and take part in deciding who is guilty in a given situation is unique to American democracy and supports the idea of checks and balances the government as a whole is structured around.

An attorney’s job is to convey their client’s side of the story to the jury through compelling evidence and arguments.

During a trial, the group of 12 jurors sit in the jury box and listen thoughtfully as evidence is presented by both sides of the case, eventually deliberating on that evidence together and deciding which party should be held liable or not liable. If this sounds like a job for the judge, you’re not entirely mistaken. The judge is responsible for deciding which evidence the attorneys may present to the jury as they decide whether the accused is liable, and provides legal instruction to the jury as well as deciding how to sentence the defendant.

The purpose of the American jury system is to support the proper carriage of justice for each and every case that goes to trial. The importance of allowing 12 strangers to come together and evaluate the validity of another citizen’s claim is a cornerstone of the American legal system and vital to ensuring a fair trial every time.