In colonial America, the jury became a vehicle for the colonists to assert new ideas and principles, particularly in cases of conflict with the Crown.
In that case, the jury was asked only to determine whether Zenger had in fact printed the newspaper in question; a judge sympathetic to the king would then decide whether he was guilty of sedition. In the following decades, the role of the jury and the jury selection process came to the forefront of public discussion, and several states passed legislation dealing with jury selection in order to thwart British attempts to stack juries with loyalists.
After the American Revolution, juries were seen as having even greater importance. The execution of the laws is more important than the making of them. There are two forms of the modern jury, each with a distinct purpose. The grand jury assesses evidence in criminal cases and issues a decision as to whether the prosecution may indict an individual, while the petit trial jury decides guilt in criminal cases or liability and monetary damages in civil cases.
The grand jury does not exist in every state; in fact, only 14 states require grand juries to issue indictments for all criminal prosecutions. Grand juries listen to evidence for criminal cases only. They are composed of between 6 and 23 jurors, hence the name grand from the French, and serve for a period of time often several months , potentially hearing many cases.
In many states a two-thirds or three-fourths majority is required, while in some states as few as 12 of 23 jurors may prosecute. If the jurors cannot agree on a verdict, a hung jury occurs and a new trial may be held or the case dismissed. The only people ineligible to serve on juries are the mentally ill and noncitizens.
In many states, however, individuals with jobs deemed important to society teachers or doctors, for example , those whose jobs would be put in jeopardy by a long absence small business owners, for example , and non-English speakers are excused from jury service, either by statute or practice. In the U. Both defense and prosecution can dismiss jurors for cause by establishing some reason why the juror might be prejudiced. The jurors elect a foreperson or presiding juror from among them to lead deliberations and announce their verdict, and the court provides the jury with written forms of all possible verdicts for the case.
Juries generally decide criminal sentences only in death penalty cases. After the verdict is given, the jurors are paid a daily stipend for their service and dismissed. Though today juries are used in only about 5 percent of all criminal and civil cases, they are as fundamental to justice in the United States now as when Andrew Hamilton argued for an expanded role of the jury in A jury that includes African Americans will presumably be better able to understand the circumstances of an African American defendant who claims to have been targeted by police, just as a jury that includes women will likely be better able to understand the experience of a woman charged with assault against an abusive husband.
Juries also enable Americans to maintain an active role in their government. Jury service gives individuals first-hand experience with the legal system, which in turn helps generate support for it. Strauder v. West Virginia , U. Sheppard v. Maxwell , U.
The case of Sam Sheppard, a Cleveland doctor accused of killing his wife, received such widespread pre-trial publicity excoriating Sheppard and proclaiming his guilt that the Court found he did not receive a fair trial and overturned his conviction. Duncan v. Louisiana , U.
He had been given a day prison sentence for a misdemeanor battery charge without the benefit of a jury trial because the Louisiana Constitution required juries only in capital cases or cases in which imprisonment or hard labor could be imposed. Johnson v. Oregon , U. Taylor v. Batson v. Kentucky , U. The Court pronounced peremptory challenges based solely on race to be unconstitutional.
In this case against an African American man charged with burglary and receipt of stolen goods, all four black potential jurors were dismissed by the prosecution, and Batson was found guilty. The Supreme Court ruled that this was a violation of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to a jury drawn from a cross-section of the community and equal protection of the law.
Lockhart v. McCree , U. Interview a parent or some other adult who was called for jury service.
Did this person: Serve on a jury? Get dismissed? Ask the person to describe either experience.
If the person served: For how long? In what kind of case? What was surprising about the procedures? What did this person learn? Did this person feel he or she was fulfilling an important civic duty by serving? Research the history of women and jury service, looking especially at the Nineteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court case of Taylor v. Did you know that until , women did not serve on juries in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Dakota, and that women became eligible for jury service in all federal and state courts only in ?
Write a paper discussing why this might be and why jury service is more inclusive now. Arrange to visit your state or local courthouse at a time when students will be able to watch the voir dire process being conducted. Contact the court administrator or public information officer for scheduling guidance.
Alternatively, watch jury selection in a trial on Court TV schedule and webcasts available at www. Arrange for a lawyer or judge to visit the class and conduct a mock voir dire session with students as potential jurors. View the classic film Twelve Angry Men over several class periods or watch it as homework. Do you think that in real life, one juror could ever be as influential or persuasive as Henry Fonda?
Would a deadlocked hung jury have been a more likely result? In light of the film, how important is the principle of jury unanimity in criminal cases? Visit the website of the National Constitution Center, which features two lesson plans for teaching about the jury.
Are grand juries used? In all criminal cases? How many people must agree to issue an indictment? How many people serve on a petit jury? Must they reach a unanimous verdict? What jury reforms would you advocate for your state? Look at the information available about jury duty in your county www.
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