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Juries - Further Readings

jury trial jurors system

History
A jury is a group of persons selected from the community that is charged withhearing a legal case and delivering a verdict on it. Juries are used in bothcivil and criminal cases, and they base their decisions on testimony and other evidence that is presented at trial. In death penalty cases, they may be charged with imposing a sentence on a criminal defendant.
The concept of the jury system can be traced to Athens, Greece, around 400 B.C. These earliest juries heard arguments in legal cases but did not apply law. According to author John Guinther, quoting Aristotle, juries in Athens instead decided cases based on their "understanding of general justice." The vastempire of ancient Rome rejected the idea of juries, opting instead for a professional court system in which ordinary citizens had no role. The dark agesthat followed the fall of the Roman empire had little use for law, not to mention juries, and the jury system of justice lay dormant until the twelfth century. Around that time, Italian scholars revived the rule of law in Europe with the force of their arguments.
In Great Britain, the jury system was not used until the twelfth century. Prior to that time, the Catholic Church dominated the legal system with its ecclesiastical courts. Judgment and punishment were carried out by the Church through the "ordeal," a form of torture in which a wide variety of physical pains could be inflicted on an accused criminal. Random crimes could be resolvedwith the "hue and cry," a process in which a person publicly called for a posse to hunt down and thrash a suspected criminal. Civil disputes often were solved by "compurgation," a method that required each party in the case to bring several friends, or "compurgators," for verbal support; the party with themost compurgators won the case. In the twelfth century, English monarch HenryII formulated the earliest British version of the jury system when, after astruggle with the Papacy in Rome, he ordered that a group of regular citizenswould decide disputes over land in secular courts. However, Henry II also utilized inquisitions and ordeals and the hue and cry remained the foremost system of justice. It was under the reign of Henry's son, King John, that the first example of the western world's modern jury system was created.
King John was a rather ruthless monarch who was unpopular with landowners, or"barons." The king was accustomed to seizing the land and families of baronswho could not pay their debts on time. The barons, dissatisfied with years of abuse at the hands of King John, banded together and in May of 1215, they confronted King John at Runnymede, a meadow on the bank of the Thames river. At knifepoint, the barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, a documentwhich declared that no person was above the law, including the king. Under Chapter 39 of the Magna Carta, "[n]o freeman, shall be taken or imprisoned orseized or exiled or in any way destroyed...except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land." The barons intended that juries would be composed of other barons, and not of commoners, but this did not come to pass. At first, juries in England were comprised partly of noblemen and partlyof commoners, but, as the system evolved, jurors were picked without regard to their economic status.
The case against William Penn and William Mead in the late seventeenth century illustrated the importance of the jury and its rise to power within the judicial system. Penn and Mead were religious dissenters who were given to preaching in public. Around this time, Brits were so suspicious of King Charles II's Catholic leanings that they passed laws against preaching in public. Pennand Mead were arrested, and opponents of the king sought to have Penn and Mead prosecuted and imprisoned, which would have embarrassed the king. The courtimpaneled a jury and, after both sides presented their case, they retired todeliberate, knowing full well that they were expected to deliver verdicts ofguilty. Around this time, the judge had a tremendous amount of power over jurors. A judge could keep jurors until they delivered a verdict desired by thejudge, and in some cases, a judge could lock the jury in a room and deprivethe jurors of food and water and other amenities until they delivered the desired verdict. Several members of the jury led by Edward Bushell, refused to deliver a unanimous guilty verdict. The jury was sent off to deliberate againand again, without food, drink, fire, or tobacco, but it still could not deliver a guilty verdict. It did absolve Mead, but the judge ruled that Mead could not be released because he was charged with conspiring with Penn. Penn, from his cage in the courtroom (Mead likewise was kept in a cage), bellowed that"[i]f not guilty be not a verdict, then you make of the jury and Magna Cartabut a mere nose of wax." The Lord Mayor of London threatened to cut Bushell's throat and the jury was sent away for another night without food or drink.The next morning, it returned with not guilty verdicts again, and the judge imposed a fine on each juror. The jurors refused to pay the fine and were sentto jail. Eight jurors eventually relented, but four did not, and they eventually brought their own case against the court from jail. In what became knownas Bushell's Case, the Court of Common Pleas declared that the punishment of the jurors was illegal and that no jury could be punished for its verdict. Penn and Mead, both of whom were sent to jail after the fiasco, were released when Penn's father paid their fines. The four jurors were released from jail after the decision in Bushell's Case, and their ultimate success helped to establish the power of the jury system in England.
The Jury System in America
The English jury system migrated to colonial America, but the English did notallow juries in all cases. The denial of the right to a jury trial in all cases inflamed the colonists, and it was one of the many reasons for the revoltagainst England's rule. During the American Revolution, many states includedthe right to a jury trial in their state constitutions. After the United States won the war, the framers of the U.S. Constitution inserted the right to ajury trial in several places: in Article III, Section 2, the right to a trial by jury in criminal cases; in the Fifth Amendment, which provided for grandjuries in criminal cases; in the Sixth Amendment, which guaranteed the rightto a trial by jury in serious federal criminal cases; and in the Seventh Amendment, which provided for a jury trial in civil cases where the amount in controversy exceeded $20.
The basic characteristics of juries have changed slightly over the years. Originally, in England, juries were inquisitorial. That is, they could ask questions of the parties. Additionally, the early juries were chosen for their knowledge of the facts of the case. Over time, as populations increased, it became too difficult for courts to insist that a juror have knowledge of the facts of the case, and juries became comprised of persons who were, until the trial, ignorant of the case facts. Under contemporary law, the parties in a casegenerally prefer jurors who do not know the circumstances and facts of a case. In today's mass communication society, however, it is not always possibleto find jurors who have not heard of a particularly infamous case. If those persons can promise to keep an open mind about the case, they may serve on a jury.
Modern Juries
The rules and laws surrounding juries are numerous and varied. Generally, federal and state courts follow the same process in impaneling a jury. First, apool of jurors, called the venire, is selected from the community's driver license lists or voter registration lists to come to court. Before trial, the lawyers for the parties put the venire through voir dire. Voir dire is the examination of jurors to see if they are competent and suitable to sit on a jury. The lawyers for each side may excuse a potential jurorfrom the case "for cause," which can be anything that impairs the person's ability to perform the duties of a juror. Lawyers may challenge an unlimited number of prospective jurors for cause. The lawyers also have a limited numberof "peremptory challenges," or challenges to prospective jurors that are unsupported by a reason.
One important issue is concerned with precisely who may serve on a jury. Women were excluded from juries in some states as late as the 1940s. In many states, women could serve on juries, but the right of women to serve on a jury was not confirmed by the Supreme Court until 1975. That year, after decades ofstops and starts, the High Court held in Taylor v. Louisiana that theSixth Amendment prohibited excluding from jury duty whole identifiable segments of the community, including women.
African Americans historically were prevented from serving on juries, even after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, both of which purported to protect the rights of all American citizens.As early as 1880, the U.S. Supreme Court had held in Strauder v. West Virginia that exclusion of black persons from a jury violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Subsequent High Court decisions confirmed that a jury should be a cross-section of the community, but the practice of excluding whole racial groups from juries continued as lawyers clung tothe benefits of racially homogenous juries. In 1986, the Supreme Court attempted to stop such maneuvering with its decision in Batson v. Kentucky.In Batson, the High Court held that a party may question the removalof a juror if the party believes that the opposing party removed the juror solely on the basis of race or gender.
There are differences in the juries of civil trials and the juries in criminal trials. Under the Seventh Amendment, a party to a civil case is entitled toa jury trial, but the U.S. Supreme Court has not held that the same rule applies to the states. Nevertheless, most states give parties the right to choose a jury trial in most civil cases. On the federal level, Congress may deny the right to a jury trial in a civil case, provided the case deals with publicrights (i.e. the right to safe working conditions), and provided Congress creates an administrative body to be the sole arbiter of the disputes. (Atlas v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission)
The right to a jury trial in a criminal case is slightly more important thanthe right in a civil case. This is because a person's liberty is at risk in acriminal case. If a criminal defendant does not face jail time of more thansix months, the defendant does not have a right to a jury trial. Trials heldwithout a jury are called "bench trials," and are tried solely before the judge, who hears the evidence and makes the decision herself.
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