The jury trial finds its existence in the American legal system in the grand jury, criminal petit jury and civil petit jury. Each of these is guaranteed by the US Constitution in the federal courts and are being used by all the states. The criminal and civil juries represent the difference between both the laws and most cases in the United States are settled out of court before they are taken up for trail by the courts. Even in those cases where they go on trail a person cannot be granted a jury trial automatically in all the cases.
Finally an accused person who has the right to jury trial may forego the right in place of a bench trial before a judge. In the case of civil trials the parties to the dispute can agree to a bench trail. Thus a jury trial generally takes place only in those instances where it is insisted by one of the parties in the civil case and by the accused in criminal cases to be of in their best interest to have it. The right to trail by jury however influences even the settlement of the cases that never go on trial.
In the American judicial system the trial is held before a single judge who may sit with or without a jury. In that situation the case may last for several days or weeks. However where there is a jury present it is a continuous process without prolonged adjournment. Where there is a claim by the plaintiff for compensatory monetary damages, there is a right granted to the plaintiff for jury trail and this right can also be waived. It may be noted that the jurors are not expected to be conversant in their skills for a clear understanding of the transactions involved.
For this reason and several other reasons which make a jury trail complex and complicated the parties generally prefer to have their cases heard by judges waiving their rights for jury trails . Thus it may be said that since the jury trial is a complex and lengthy process which normally delays the settlement of the cases. The following is the procedure to be followed in the case of a jury trail. In the case of a jury trail the jurors are to be selected by lot from a group of qualified citizens belonging to a cross section of the community who have specifically been summoned for jury duty.
At common law the number of jurors is 12, but this practice has been changed by the states to have lesser numbers up to 6. There are certain minimum criteria to be met by the jurors in respect of citizenship, eligibility to vote, age, general health and impartiality. The jurors are subjected to an examination of their qualification and the appointment of a jury can be challenged by either party and can be excluded if the respective jury is not qualified.
Each side is having a certain number of preemptive rights to remove the jury without assigning reasons except on the grounds of race or gender. After the jurors have been sworn to try the case they are seated in the jury box and the trial begins. Theoretically it is the duty of the jurors to decide issues of ‘fact’ while it is the duty of the judges to decide the issues relating to ‘law’. However the dividing line in between deciding whether an issue is a question of law or fact is highly debatable .
After presentation of the cases and examination and cross examination of witnesses closing arguments are presented to enable the jury to arrive at a conclusion in the case. The judge will instruct the jury the rules of law under which it is to reach its decision. After the charge of the judge about the rules of law, the jurors retire to the jury room where they deliberate in secret for a matter of hours and sometimes days until they reach their verdict.
The verdict of the jurors had to be unanimous but this rule is often altered by the statute. In some jurisdiction a less than unanimous decision by the jury is acceptable with the consent of the parties. In any case a ‘hung jury’ where there is no possibility for the jurors to arrive at a unanimous conclusion is not possible. Thus since the jury trial involves a complex procedure for appointment and conduct of the jury trial it does not normally aid the speedy settlement of the cases.