What Is a Petit Jury?


Quick Answer

Petit juries, also known as trial juries, determine verdicts in civil and criminal cases, in contrast to grand juries that determine whether enough evidence exists to put suspects on trial, reports U.S. Courts. Although both petit juries and grand juries consist of randomly selected participants that courts assemble to consider evidence, there are differences in size, length of service, duties and methods of operation, explains Nolo.

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Full Answer

Petit juries have six to 12 jurors, while grand juries have 16 to 23 jurors, according to U.S. Courts. Unlike grand jury proceedings, which are private, petit jury trials are usually open to the public, although petit juries hold their deliberations in seclusion. Grand juries do not admit defendants or their attorneys, while in petit jury trials, defendants may testify and call witnesses. At the end of petit jury trials, jurors agree on verdicts of not guilty or guilty in criminal cases or in favor of defendants or plaintiffs in civil cases.

Although jurors in grand juries may serve during a term of court lasting six to 18 months, petit jurors serve on a single trial for as few as 10 days, according to Nolo. Petit juries usually have to decide unanimously whether defendants are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, although in some misdemeanor cases unanimity is not necessary. To choose jurors for petit juries, clerks of court take names randomly from lists of registered voters or licensed drivers and summon the potential jurors to appear in court, states the Federal Judicial Center. During a question-and-answer session, courts select jurors for specific trials.

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