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Jury trial

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A jury trial is a trial in which the judge of the facts, as opposed to the judge of the law, is a jury, made up of citizens selected from among a pool that has been randomly selected and are generally not legal professionals. In other words, a panel of citizens collectively decide what facts occurred relating to a lawsuit. Juries are most commonly associated with common law jurisdictions. However some civil law jurisdictions also involve juries or lay assessors.

A jury trial should not be confused with grand jury proceedings. The jury used for a trial can be referred to as a "petit jury", to distinguish it from a grand jury, used for indictments.

Contents

History of jury trials

Juries were developed at least as early as the Dark Ages in England. The Anglo-Saxons passed on the system to the modern age; however, they may have been influenced by the customs of the Danes or earlier Saxon tradition. The English king Ethelred the Unready set up an early legal system through the Wantage Code of Ethelred, one provision of which stated that the twelve leading thegns (minor nobles) of each wapentake (a small district) were required to swear that they would investigate crimes without a bias. These juries differed from the modern sort by being self-informing; instead of getting information through a trial, the jurors were required to investigate the case themselves.[1] (http://www.britannia.com/history/narsaxhist2.html)

King Henry II took a major step in developing the jury system. Henry II set up a system to resolve land disputes using juries. A jury of twelve free men were assigned to arbitrate in these disputes. Unlike the modern jury, these men were charged with uncovering the facts of the case on their own rather than listening to arguments in court.

Henry II also introduced what is now known as the "grand jury" through his Assize of Clarendon. Under the assize, a jury of free men was charged with reporting any crimes that they knew of in their hundred to a "justice in eyre," a judge who moved between hundreds on a circuit. A criminal accused by this jury was given a trial by ordeal.

The Church banned participation of clergy in trial by ordeal in 1215. Without the legitimacy of religion, trial by ordeal collapsed. The juries under the assizes began deciding guilt as well as providing accusations. The same year, trial by jury became an implied right in one of the most influential clauses of Magna Carta, signed by King John. Article 39 of the Magna Carta read:

No free man shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived of his property, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor shall we go against him or send against him, unless by legal judgement of his peers, or by the law of the land.

Over time, English juries became less self-informing and relied more on the trial itself for information on the case. Jurors remained free to investigate cases on their own until the 17th century.

Many English colonies adopted the jury trial system including the United States. Jury trials in criminal cases were a protected right in the original Constitution and the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments of the Constitution extend the rights to trial by jury to include the right to jury trial at the state level for both criminal and civil matters and a grand jury for serious cases.

The role of jury trials

  • In most common law jurisdictions, the jury is responsible for finding the facts of the case, while the judge determines the law. These "peers of the accused" are responsible for listening to a dispute, evaluating the evidence presented, deciding on the facts, and making a decision in accordance with the rules of law and their jury instructions. Typically, the jury only judges guilt or innocence, but the actual penalty is set by the judge.
  • In France and some countries organized in the same fashion, the jury and several professional judges sit together to determine guilt first. Then, if guilt was determined, they decide the appropriate penalty.

Some jurisdictions with jury trials allow the defendant to waive their right to a jury trial, this leading to a bench trial. Jury trials tend to occur only when a crime is considered serious. In some jurisdictions, such as France and Brazil, jury trials are reserved, and compulsory, for the most severe crimes and are not available for civil cases. In Brazil, for example, trials by jury are applied in cases of First and Second-degree murders, even if only attempted. In others, such as the United Kingdom, jury trials are only available for criminal cases and very specific civil cases. In the United States, jury trials are available in both civil and criminal cases.

In the United States, because jury trials tend to be high profile, the general public tends to overestimate the frequency of jury trials; the vast majority of cases are in fact settled by plea bargain which removes the need for a jury trial.

Pros and cons

In countries where jury trials are common, juries are often seen as an important check against state power. Many also believe that a jury is likely to provide a more sympathetic hearing, or a fairer one, to a party who is not part of the government, or other establishment interest than would representatives of the state.

This last point may be disputed. For example, in highly emotional cases, such as child rape, the jury may be tempted to convict based on personal feelings rather than on conviction beyond reasonable doubt. Former attorney, then later minister of Justice Robert Badinter remarked about jury trials in France that they were like riding a ship into a storm, because they are much less predictable than bench trials.

Another issue with jury trials is the potential for jurors to be swayed by prejudice, including racial considerations. An infamous case was the 1992 trial in the Rodney King case in California, in which white police officers were acquitted of violently beating a black man by a jury consisting mostly of whites without any black jurors, despite an incriminating videotape of the action. This led to widespread questioning about the case and riots ensued.

The positive belief about jury trials in the UK and the US contrasts with popular belief in many other nations, in which it is considered bizarre and risky for a person's fate to be put into the hands of untrained laymen. Consider Japan, for instance, which used to have optional jury trials for capital or other serious crimes between 1928 and 1943. The defendant could freely choose whether to have a jury or trial by judges, and the decisions of the jury were non-binding. During the Tōjō-regime this was suspended, arguably due to the popular belief that any defendant who risks his fate on the opinions of untrained laymen is almost certainly guilty.

Recently, in England, the government's Lord Chancellor supported a bill in Parliment to abolish jury trials in major criminal fraud trials. Both liberal and conservative politicians sharply resisted the move for a number of reasons. First, the jury system is highly respected in England and has an 800 year history of serving the law well. A half million persons a year participate in the jury system, and support the concept. Second, the Lord Chancellor's attack on the jury system appeared to arise out of several bungled trials by the government in high profile cases. Third, there was no research done by the Lord Chancellor to support his contention that the juries were not smart enough to handle fact finding in fraud cases, but instead it appeared that the prosecutor's offices didn't handle the cases well.

For now the bill to abolish juries has been stopped. "British Plan to Abolish Juries Blocked, Not Dead" (http://trialandappeal.blogspot.com/2005/11/british-plan-to-abolish-juries-blocked.html), Court Watch, November 28, 2005.

The United States

In the United States every person accused of a felony has a constitutional right to a trial by jury, which arises from the 6th amendment (made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment) that states in part: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed..." Most states' constitutions also grant the right of trial by jury in lesser criminal matters, though most have abrogated that right in offenses punishable by fine only.

In the cases Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) and Blakely v. Washington (2004), the Supreme Court of the United States held that a criminal defendant has a right to a jury trial not only on the question of guilt or innocence, but any fact used to increase the defendant's sentence beyond the maximum otherwise allowed by statutes or sentencing guidelines. This invalidated the procedure in many states and the federal courts that allowed sentencing enhancement based on "a preponderance of evidence", where enhancement could be based on the judge's findings alone.

Jurors in the U.S. are selected through voter registration and drivers' license lists. A form is sent to prospective jurors to pre-qualify them by asking the recipient to answer questions about citizenship, disabilities, ability to understand the English language, and whether they have any conditions that would excuse them from being a juror. If they are deemed qualified, a summons is issued.

Criminal trial procedure

A jury trial starts with the arrest or formal accusation of the defendant when the prosecutor (who represents the government) files an indictment or an information. The defendant is brought before the judge and informed of the charges against him, and usually informed of other rights including the right to counsel from an attorney. After that there is usually a period of preparation for both parties, during which there may be negotiations for a plea bargain, pleadings may be filed or motions made, and any other actions considered preparatory.

On the day of trial the court (or clerk of the court) convenes a panel of members of the public from which a jury will be selected. Both sides are asked if they are "ready," (a technical term), and if answered in the affirmative the court proceedes to voir dire. During voir dire the judge and/or attorneys involved may question the potential jurors to varying degrees depending on the jurisdiction. At the conclusion of the questioning the attorneys may request that certain members of the panel not sit on the jury through a "peremptory challenge" or a "challenge for cause." After the challenges the court impanels the jury by administering an oath. In most jurisdictions the jury consists of 12 jurors (and perhaps one or more alternates) for a felony trial, and six jurors for a misdemeanor trial. The judge will then permit the prosecution and defense to make opening statements.

The prosecutor (except in very rare circumstances) then begins to present their case. Prosecutors go first because they have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime of which they have been accused. The prosecutor may present evidence as simple as one person's testimony, and as complicated as months of scientific evidence and expert testimony. Any evidence must be in accordance with the rules of evidence, and all disputes are handled through objections by the opposing party and rulings by the judge. At the completion of the presentation of this evidence, the prosecutor "rests".

The defendant is then permitted to present evidence in the same manner and form as the prosecutor, but is not required to do anything as the burden of proof rests solely on the prosecutor. The defense will then rest. There may then be a rebuttal by the prosecution (if reserved), and sometimes a rebuttal by the defense.

When both parties have rested, the court will direct them to begin closing statements (also called "summation"). The defense delivers their summation first, followed by the prosecutor. Once again, this is because the prosecution bears the sole burden of proving that the defendant committed the crime, and because of that is allowed to speak first and last. In some jurisdictions, the prosecutor goes first, followed by the defense, and then the prosecutor is permitted to speak again.

The jury will then be instructed on the law by the judge in the form of a jury instruction and/or charge. The jury will then be directed to a private room where they will select a foreperson and decide whether the defendant committed the acts of which he was accused. Upon making a determination they will inform the bailiff, who will inform the judge.

All parties will be recalled to the courtroom, where the judge will ask the jurors if they have reached a verdict. If they answer in the affirmative the verdict will be read by the judge or clerk or foreperson (depending on jurisdiction). If the verdict is not guilty the defendant will be released (for that charge). If the verdict is guilty the defendant will be sentenced.

In capital cases and other criminal cases (depending on jurisdiction) the jury may be held to determine the sentence for a crime. What follows is a mini-trial or hearing in which the prosecution and defense may present evidence of mitigation and aggravation of the crime, and then have a sentence imposed.

Civil trial procedure

Note: in the United States "Civil" denotes non-criminal actions and should not be confused with Civil law jurisdictions.

In the United States, typical civil trial procedure is very similar to criminal trial procedure. The right to trial by jury is guaranteed by the 7th Amendment, which provides: "In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law." [2] (http://www.gpoaccess.gov/constitution/html/amdt7.html) In [Joseph Story]'s 1883 treatise Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, he wrote, "[I]t is a most important and valuable amendment; and places upon the high ground of constitutional right the inestimable privilege of a trial by jury in civil cases, a privilege scarcely inferior to that in criminal cases, which is conceded by all to be essential to political and civil liberty."

Following the English tradition, U.S. juries have usually been comprised of 12 jurors, and the jury's verdict was usually required to be unanimous. However, in many jurisdictions, the number of jurors is often reduced to a lesser number (such as five or six) by legislative enactment, or by agreement of both sides. Some jurisdictions also permit a verdict to be returned despite the dissent of one, two, or three jurors.

Waiver of jury trial

The vast majority of US criminal cases are not concluded with a jury verdict, but rather by plea bargain. Both prosecutors and defendants often have a strong interest in resolving the criminal case by negotiation resulting in a plea bargain. If the defendant waives a jury trial, a bench trial is held.

In United States Federal courts, there is no absolute right to waive a jury trial. Only if the prosecution and the court consent may a defendant have a waiver of jury trial. However, most states give the defendant the absolute right to waive a jury trial.

Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas

In Blanton v. North Las Vegas (US-1989) it was ruled: "offenses for which the maximum period of incarceration is six months, or less, are presumptively petty...a defendant can overcome this, and become entitled to a jury trial,..by showing that additional penalties [such as monetary fines]...are...so severe [as to indicate] that the legislature clearly determined that the offense is a serious one."

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom consists of three separate legal jurisdictions, but there are some features common to all of them, in particular there is seldom anything like the US voir dire system, jurors are usually just accepted without question. Controversially, in England there has been some screening in sensitive security cases, but the Scottish courts have firmly set themselves against any form of jury vetting.

In England and Wales (which have the same legal system) juries consist of 12 people. In the past a unanimous verdict was required. This has been changed so that, if the jury fail to agree after a given period at the discretion of the judge, they may reach a verdict by a 10-2 majority. This was in order to prevent jury tampering in cases involving organised crime.

In Scotland juries consist of 15 people for criminal trials and 12 people for civil trials. In criminal trials there has never been a requirement for verdicts to be unanimous, they are reached by simple majority. (People were occasionally hanged on majority verdicts in Scotland.) Juries may also return the unusual not proven verdict. The backing of at least eight jurors is needed to return a guilty verdict, even if the number of jurors drops below 15 e.g. because of illness. It is not possible for Scots juries to "hang", if there is not sufficient support for any verdict then this is treated as a verdict of not guilty.

In Northern Ireland, jury trials have been replaced in cases of alleged terrorist offences by courts where the judge sits alone, known as "Diplock courts".

France

According to the French Code of Penal Procedure, all jurors must individually swear to the following message from the judge presiding the court:

You judge and promise to examine with the most scrupulous attention the charges who will be laid against [the defendant]; to betray neither the interests of the defendant, nor the interests of the society that accuses him, nor the interests of the victim; not to communicate with anybody until you [declare your verdict]; not so listen to hatred, malice, fear or affection; to remember that the defendant is presumed to be innocent and that doubt must benefit him; to decide yourself according to the charges and the means of defense, according to your conscience and intimate conviction, with the impartiality and firmness that befit an honest and free person, and to keep the secret of the deliberations, even after you cease to be a juror.

India

Jury trials were abolished by the government of India in 1960 on the grounds they would be susceptible to media and public influence. This decision was based on an 8:1 acquittal of Kawas Nanavati in K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra, which was overturned by higher courts, on the grounds that the Jury was misled by the presiding judge.

Australia

The first trial by jury in the colony of New South Wales was held in April 1841 in the town of Berrima.

See also

References

  • Sadakat Kadri, The Trial: A History from Socrates to O.J. Simpson, HarperCollins 2005. ISBN 0007111215

History of the jury

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