Group chosen from the citizens of a district to try a question of fact at issue in a trial. Though petit juries in England and the U.S. historically have contained 12 members, there is no uniform number. Numerical requirements for a valid verdict vary (e.g., unanimity in most courts in the U.S., a majority in Scotland and Italy, two-thirds in Portugal). The petit jury is the standard jury for civil and criminal trials. It has less discretion than is often imagined. The trial judge supervises it, rules on what evidence it may view and which laws are applicable, and sometimes directs or, at the end of the trial, sets aside its verdict. Seealso grand jury.
Learn more about petit jury with a free trial on Britannica.com.
The word jury originates Latin, from juris (law). Juries are most common in common law adversarial-system jurisdictions. Juries act as triers of fact, while judges act as triers of law. A trial without a jury (in which both questions of fact and questions of law are decided by a judge) is known as a bench trial.
The petit jury (or trial jury) hears the evidence in a trial as presented by both the plaintiff (petitioner) and the defendant (respondent). After hearing the evidence and often jury instructions from the judge, the group retires for deliberation, to consider a verdict. The majority required for a verdict varies. In some cases it must be unanimous, while in other jurisdictions it may be a majority or supermajority. A jury that is unable to come to a verdict is referred to as a hung jury. The size of the jury varies; in criminal cases there are usually 12 jurors, although Scotland uses 15. In civil cases many trials require only six.
A grand jury, a type of jury now confined almost exclusively to some jurisdictions in the United States, determines whether there is enough evidence for a criminal trial to go forward. Grand juries carry out this duty by examining evidence presented to them by a prosecutor and issuing indictments, or by investigating alleged crimes and issuing presentment. A grand jury is traditionally larger than and distinguishable from the petit jury used during a trial, with at least 12 jurors.
Serving on a jury is normally compulsory for those individuals who are qualified for jury service. Since a jury is intended to be an impartial panel capable of reaching a verdict, there are often procedures and requirements, for instance, fluent understanding of the language, or the ability to test jurors or otherwise exclude jurors who might be perceived as less than neutral or more partial to hear one side or the other. Juries are initially chosen randomly from the eligible population residing in the court's jurisdictional area (unless a change of venue has occurred). Jury selection varies widely; in the United States, some form of organized questioning of the prospective jurors (jury pool) occurs—voir dire—before the jury is selected (impanel)
A head juror is called the foreman or presiding juror. The foreman is often chosen before the trial begins. The role of the foreman is to ask questions on behalf of the jury, facilitate jury discussions, and sometimes to read the verdict of the jury. Since there is always the possibility of jurors not completing the trial for health or other reasons, often one or more alternate jurors are nominated. Alternates hear the trial but do not take part in deciding the verdict unless a juror is unable to deliberate.
The modern jury trial as it is now understood was later developed in England during the Assize of Clarendon in 1166, a document issued by Henry II of England in 1166. This established juries of the hundreds and boroughs. These juries of presentment were required to declare on oath before visiting justices and sheriffs, who were accused or suspected of serious felonies. The function of a presentment jury was to bring cases, which had before only been possible by private appeal. Henry 's assize may well have only formalized a system in operation and first referred to in a decree issued by Aethelred at Wantage, which enacted that in every wapentake "the twelve leading thegns together with the reeve shall go out and swear on the relics which are given into their hands, that they will not accuse any innocent man nor shield a guilty one..
The concept can also be traced to Normandy before 1066, when a jury of nobles was established to decide land disputes. In this manner, the Duke, being the largest land owner, could not act as a judge in his own case. Many ancient cultures had similar concepts, notably ancient Judea whose panel of judges called the Sanhedrin served a similar purpose.
One of the earliest antecedents of modern jury systems are juries in ancient Greece, including the city-state of Athens, where records of jury courts date back to 500 BCE. These voted by secret ballot and were eventually granted the power to annul unconstitutional laws, thus introducing judicial review. In modern systems, law is "self-contained" and "distinct from other coercive forces, and perceived as separate from the political life of the community," but "all these barriers are absent in the context of classical Athens. In practice and in conception the law and its administration are in some important respects indistinguishable from the life of the community in general.
The size of the jury is to provide a "cross-section" of the public. In Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a Florida state jury of six was sufficient, and that "the 12-man panel is not a necessary ingredient of "trial by jury," and that respondent's refusal to impanel more than the six members provided for by Florida law did not violate petitioner's Sixth Amendment rights as applied to the States through the Fourteenth."
Conversely, jurors are generally required to keep their deliberations in strict confidence during the trial and deliberations, and in some jurisdictions even after a verdict is rendered. In English law, the jury's deliberations must never be disclosed outside the jury, even years after the case; to repeat parts of the trial or verdict, is considered to be contempt of court, a criminal offense. In the United States, this rule usually does not apply, and sometimes jurors have made remarks that called into question whether a verdict was properly arrived at.
Because of the desire to prevent undue influence on a jury, jury tampering (like witness tampering) is a serious crime, whether attempted through bribery, threat of violence, or other means. Jurors themselves can also be held liable if they deliberately compromise their impartiality.
Occasionally, if jurors find the law to be invalid or unfair, they may acquit the defendant, regardless of the evidence that the defendant violated the law. This is commonly referred to as jury nullification. When there is no jury ("bench trial"), the judge makes rulings on both questions of law and of fact. In most continental European jurisdictions, the judges have more power in a trial and the role and powers of a jury are often restricted. Actual jury law and trial procedures differ between countries.
In the United States, juries are also entitled to make factual findings on particular aggravating circumstances which will be used to elevate the defendant's sentence, if the defendant is convicted. This practice was required in all death penalty cases in Blakely v. Washington, where the Supreme Court ruled that allowing judges to make such findings unilaterally violates the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. A similar Sixth-Amendment argument in Apprendi v. New Jersey expanded the requirement to all cases, holding that "any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt".
In Canada, juries are also allowed to make suggestions for sentencing periods and at the time of sentencing, the suggestions of the jury are presented before the judge by the Crown prosecutor(s) before the sentence is handed down.
However, this is not the practice in most other legal systems based on the English tradition, in which judges retain sole responsibility for deciding sentences according to law. The exception is the award of damages in English law libel cases, although a judge is now obliged to make a recommendation to the jury as to the appropriate amount.
Jury nullification means making a law void by jury decision, in other words "the process whereby a jury in a criminal case effectively nullifies a law by acquitting a defendant regardless of the weight of evidence against him or her."
In the 17th and 18th centuries there were a series of cases starting in 1670 with the trial of the Quaker William Penn which asserted the (de facto) right of a jury to pass a verdict contrary to the facts or law. A good example is the case of one Carnegie of Finhaven who in 1728 accidentally killed the Scottish Earl of Strathmore. As the defendant had undoubtedly killed the Earl, the law (as it stood) required the jury to pass the verdict that the case had been "proven" and cause Carnegie of Finhaven to die for an accidental killing. Instead the jury asserted what it believed to be their "ancient right" to judge the whole case and not just the facts and brought in the verdict of "not guilty". This led to the development of the not proven verdict in Scots law.
Today in the United States, juries are instructed by the judge to follow his instructions concerning what is the "law", in his opinion, and to render a verdict solely on the evidence presented in court. If it reaches a conclusion contrary to those instructions, but based on its own beliefs as to what the law is, whether it has been properly applied, or whether it should be the law, this is known as jury nullification. It finds its most common expression when verdicts are rendered based on passion, prejudice, sympathy or bias. It has been asserted that the jury has the power to "nullify" a law it believes is unjust, by, for example, refusing to find the defendant guilty, in spite of the evidence, if it believes that a guilty verdict would be unjust. Important past exercises of this de facto power include cases involving slavery (see Fugitive Slave Act of 1850), freedom of the press (see John Peter Zenger), and freedom of religion (see William Penn).
In 1969 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal unanimously ruled: "If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the right to acquit, and the courts must abide that decision." The Fully Informed Jury Association is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to informing jurors of their rights and seeks laws to force judges to inform jurors that they can and should judge the law. In a still standing decision (Sparf v. United States, 1895) the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that a trial judge has no responsibility to inform the jury of the right to nullify laws.
Modern American jurisprudence is generally intolerant of the practice, and a juror can be removed from a case if the judge believes that the juror is aware of the power of nullification.
Perhaps the best example of modern-day jury equity in England and Wales was the acquittal of Clive Ponting, on a charge of revealing secret information, under s.2 of the Official Secrets Act, 1911 in 1985. Mr Ponting's defense was that the revelation was in the public interest. The trial judge directed the jury that "the public interest is what the government of the day says it is" – effectively a direction to the jury to convict. Nevertheless, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
Another example is the acquittal in 1989 of Michael Randle and Pat Pottle, who confessed in open court to charges of springing the Soviet spy George Blake from Wormwood Scrubs Prison and smuggling him to East Germany in 1966. Pottle successfully appealed to the jury to disregard the judge's instruction that they consider only whether the defendants were guilty in law, and assert a jury's ancient right to throw out a politically-motivated prosecution, in this case compounded by its cynical untimeliness.
In Scotland (with a separate legal system from that of England and Wales) although technically the "not guilty" verdict was originally a form of jury nullification, over time the interpretation has changed so that now the "not guilty" verdict has become the normal one when a jury is not persuaded of guilt and the "not proven" verdict is only used when the jury is not certain of innocence or guilt. It is absolutely central to Scottish and English law that there is a presumption of innocence. It is not a trivial distinction since any shift in the burden of proof is a significant change which undermines the safeguard for the citizen.
Besides petit juries for jury trials and grand juries for issuing indictments, juries are sometimes used in non-legal or quasi-legal contexts. Blue ribbon juries attend to civic matters as an ad-hoc body in the executive branch of a government. Outside government, a jury or panel of judges may make determinations in competition, such as at a wine tasting, art exhibition, or talent contest.
Blue ribbon juries are juries selected from prominent, well-educated citizens, sometimes to investigate a particular problem such as civic corruption. Blue ribbon juries cannot be used in real trials, which require constitutional safeguards to produce a jury of one's peers. The blue-ribbon jury is intended to overcome the problems of ordinary juries in interpreting complex technical or commercial questions. In the United States blue-ribbon juries were provided for by statutes, the terms varying by jurisdiction.
Jury selection is in accordance with specific criteria. Prospective jurors may only be asked certain questions, selected for direct pertinence to impartiality or other relevant matters. Any other questions must be approved by the judge.
Juries are only rarely used in civil trials in Canada. Because juries have no power to award damages, as they do in the United States, making the incentive to call for a trial with a jury to be less attractive.
In the 1959 Nanavati case, Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati was tried for the murder of his wife Sylvia's paramour, Prem Ahuja. The incident shocked the nation, got unprecedented media coverage, and inspired several books and movies. The case was the last jury trial held in India. The central question of the case was whether the gun went off accidentally or whether it was a premeditated murder.
In the former scenario, Nanavati would be charged under the Indian penal code, for culpable homicide, with a maximum punishment of 10 years. In the latter, he would be charged with murder, with the sentence being death or life imprisonment. Nanavati pleaded not guilt. His defence team argued it was a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, while the prosecution argued it was premeditated murder.
The jury in the Greater Bombay sessions court pronounced Nanavati not guilty with an 8–1 verdict. The sessions judge considered the acquittal as perverse and referred the case to the high court. The prosecution argued that the jury had been misled by the presiding judge on four crucial points. One, the onus of proving that it was an accident and not premeditated murder was on Nanavati. Two, was Sylvia's confession of the grave provocation for Nanavati, or any specific incident in Ahuja's bedroom or both. Three, the judge wrongly told the jury that the provocation can also come from a third person. And four, the jury was not instructed that Nanavati's defence had to be proved, to the extent that there is no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person. The court accepted the arguments, dismissed the jury's verdict and the case was freshly heard in the high court. Since the jury had also been influenced by media and public support for Nanavati and was also open to being misled, the Indian government abolished jury trials after the case.
Jury trials have been very slowly introduced in Spain and have often produced less than desirable results. One of the first cases was that of Mikel Otegi who was tried in 1997 for the murder of two policemen. After a confused trial, five jury members of a total of nine voted to acquit and the judge set the accused man free. This verdict shocked the nation.
Another jury case which resulted in a miscarriage of justice was the Wanninkhof murder case.
There is no set format for jury deliberations, and the jury will take a period of time to settle into discussing the evidence. Electing a foreman is usually the first step, although for a particularly short or straightforward case, this may not happen until the delivery of the verdict.
If a foreman is elected at the beginning, he or she will chair the discussions, and it is his or her job to try to steer the jury towards a conclusion. The first step will typically be to find out the initial feeling or reaction to the case, which may be by a show of hands. The jury will then attempt to arrive at a consensus verdict.
The exchanges of views caused by people whose opinions differ from the emerging consensus will air the issues involved in the case, and consequently points will often arise from the trial that were not specifically discussed during it. The result of these discussions is likely to be that one interpretation is shown to be the most reasonable, and a verdict is thus arrived at.
In criminal law, a grand jury is convened to hear only testimony and evidence to determine whether there is a case to be answered and hence whether the accused should be indicted and sent for trial. A separate petit jury (formed of petit jurors) is then convened to hear the trial. In many areas, depending upon the law, a third jury will determine what the penalty should be or recommend what the penalty should be in the penalty phase. At a sentencing hearing, the burden of proof is now preponderance of the evidence, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt and hearsay is allowed. This practice gives the judge the power to change the finding of the jury when deciding on a sentence. When used alone the term jury usually refers to a petit jury.
In each court district, a group of 16–23 citizens holds an inquiry on criminal complaints brought by the prosecutor and decides if a trial is warranted, in which case an indictment is issued. In general, the size of juries tends to be larger if the crime alleged is more serious. If a Grand Jury rejects a proposed indictment it is known as a "no bill"; if they accept to endorse a proposed indictment it is known as a "true bill".
Art. III, Sect. 2, Cl. 3 mandates jury trial in federal criminal proceedings by a jury from the state where the crime occurred, and the Fourteenth Amendment applies this mandate to the states. The Sixth Amendment elaborates on the Article III mandate by stating that the jury convened shall be "by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." When framing the Sixth Amendment, the founders had in mind the common law vicinage. However, in practice most criminal actions in the U.S. are resolved by plea bargain. Juries are also used in many civil cases in the United States, and the Seventh Amendment explicitly preserves the right to a jury trial in civil cases tried in the United States district courts; however, it has been argued that this preservation of jury trial in civil matters is guided by state restrictions on civil jury trial as an absolute minimum and that the Federal Government is not required to provide a civil jury trial if the state in which the trial is being held does not also mandate civil jury trial in the same matter, since it is a preservation of a pre-existing right held in the states as opposed to unique rights held by the people against the Federal Government solely.
However, jurors can be dismissed for several reasons and many people are released from serving on a jury. People can, for instance, claim hardship if they take care of their children, or claim to be biased. Attorneys are routinely dismissed from jury duty for a number of reasons, particularly because attorneys in a community are likely to know of or have some connection with the attorneys involved in the case. Many individuals are paid only the token amount issued by the court for jury duty, and must take time off from work to serve (although some work places will give paid days off for jury duty).
Especially for high profile trials, or long trials, it is unusual to compel one to serve because of the possibility that a juror would have other things on their mind, such as their finances, during the trial or deliberations.
It has been argued that involuntary jury duty is unconstitutional in the United States according to the 13th amendment (Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction).