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The historical roots of the jury date to the eighth century A.D. Long before becoming an impartial body, during the reign of Charlemagne, juries interrogated prisoners. In the twelfth century, the Normans brought the jury to England, where its accusatory function remained: Citizens acting as jurors were required to come forward as witnesses and to give evidence before the monarch's judges. Not until the fourteenth century did jurors cease to be witnesses and begin to assume their modern role as triers of fact. This role was well established in British common law when settlers brought the tradition to America, and after the United States declared its independence, all state constitutions guaranteed the right of jury trial in criminal cases.

Viewing the jury as central to the rights of the new nation, the Founders firmly established its role in the U.S. Constitution. They saw the jury as not only a benefit to the accused, but also as a check on the judiciary, much as Congress exists as a check on the EXECUTIVE BRANCH. The Constitution establishes and safeguards the right to a trial by jury in four ways: Article III establishes this right in federal criminal cases; the FIFTH AMENDMENT provides for grand juries, or panels that review complaints in criminal cases, hear the evidence of the prosecutor, and decide whether to issue an indictment that will bring the accused person to trial; the SIXTH AMENDMENT guarantees in serious federal criminal cases the right to trial by a petit jury, the most common form of jury; and the SEVENTH AMENDMENT provides for a jury trial in civil cases where the amount in controversy exceeds $20.

Minnesota's Approach to a More Diverse Jury Pool

Many urban areas have encountered difficulties in providing racially and economically diverse jury pools. Critics of the criminal justice system point out that people of color are overrepresented in the number of individuals arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned, and underrepresented on criminal juries.

In 1993 the Minnesota Supreme Court Task Force on Racial Bias in the Judicial System issued a report that called for changes in jury management, so as to encourage diversity in juries. The judicial system took several steps to respond to the report.

The Minnesota Supreme Court amended jury management rules to authorize Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, the most populous and racially diverse counties in the state, to adopt new jury selection procedures that guarantee that, by percentage, minority group representation on the GRAND JURY is equal to that in the two counties. Hennepin County implemented a plan that allows grand jurors to be selected randomly unless there are no people of color among the first twenty-one jurors selected, in which case the selection process continues until at least two of the twenty-three grand jurors are people of color.

At the state level, the judicial system secured funds from the legislature to raise the rate of daily juror pay and to pay for drop-in day care for jurors who normally do not use day care. The system also began to reimburse jurors for their mileage to and from the courthouse. These steps were taken to decrease the economic hardship on potential jurors who might otherwise ignore a jury summons or ask to be excused.

The modern jury is largely a result of decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has shaped and sometimes extended these constitutional rights. One important decision was the Court's 1968 ruling in Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 88 S. Ct. 1444, 20 L. Ed. 2d 491, which requires states to provide for jury trials in serious criminal cases. Prior to Duncan, states had their own rules; Louisiana, for instance, required juries only in cases where the possible punishment was death or hard labor. The Court declared that the right to a jury trial is fundamental. In cases in which the punishment exceeds six months' imprisonment, it ruled, the DUE PROCESS CLAUSE of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT requires that the protections of the Sixth Amendment apply equally to federal and state criminal prosecutions.

Defendants may, under some circumstances, refuse a jury trial in favor of a trial before a judge. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to a jury trial does not imply a related right to refuse one (Singer v. United States, 380 U.S. 24, 85 S. Ct. 783, 13 L. Ed. 2d 630). It observed that juries are important not only to the defendant but also to the government and the public. The government, it wrote, has an interest in trying cases "before the tribunal which the Constitution regards as most likely to produce a fair result." Thus, in federal cases, rules governing CRIMINAL PROCEDURE allow a defendant to waive a jury trial only if the government consents and the court gives its approval. States vary in their approach, with some, such as Nebraska and Minnesota, requiring only the court's approval and others, such as Illinois and Louisiana, granting the defendant's wish as long as the decision is informed.

In 2002, a Jury Innovations Committee established in Florida offered no fewer than 48 jury-reform suggestions designed to make the system more efficient and user-friendly. The suggestions included requiring jury instructions to be made clearer and to allow jurors to discuss evidence as it is presented, instead of after deliberations begin.


APEREMPTORY CHALLENGE permits a party to remove a prospective juror without giving a reason for the removal. This type of challenge has had a long history in U.S. law and has been viewed as a way to ensure an impartial jury. However, use of the peremptory challenge changed as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S. Ct. 1712, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69 (1986), and its progeny, and the changes have led some lawyers and legal commentators to call for its ABOLITION. They argue that these Court decisions have deprived lawyers of their absolute discretion in using the challenges and have turned peremptory challenges into challenges for cause. Defenders of the peremptory challenge believe that the new race, gender, and religious affiliation requirements initiated by Batson simply ensure that jurors will not be excluded on the basis of stereotypes.

Those who favor retention of the peremptory challenge point to its four purposes: The peremptory challenge allows litigants to secure a fair and impartial jury. It gives the parties some control over the jury selection process. It allows an attorney to search for biases during the selection process without fear of alienating a potential juror. If, for example, a juror appears offended by the nature of the questioning, that juror can be excluded even if the answers she gives do not demonstrate bias. Finally, the peremptory challenge serves as an insurance policy when a challenge for cause is denied by the judge and the challenging party still believes that the juror is biased.

Defenders of the peremptory challenge contend that the limitations imposed by the Supreme Court have not substantially impaired the use of the challenge. As a result of Batson, a peremptory challenge can be questioned by the opposite side if that side believes that it was based solely on race or gender. The reasoning behind this change is that striking jurors on the basis of race or gender perpetuates stereotypes that were prejudicial and that were based on historical discrimination. The only way to correct this record is to allow a party to establish a PRIMA FACIE case of racial or gender discrimination. Defenders believe that to say Batson introduced race into the jury selection process is to ignore the part race has already played in the use of peremptory challenges. The other side has the opportunity to offer a nondiscriminatory reason for the challenge. The reason does not have to rise to the level of a "for-cause" challenge. It merely has to be a reasonable concern that can be articulated. Defenders of the challenge argue that this is an acceptable modification of the challenge.

They also point out that other characteristics of jurors are not bound by the Batson line of cases. A peremptory challenge based on a juror's religion, age, income, occupation, or political affiliation cannot be questioned as long as it is not a pretext for concealing race or gender bias. Therefore, argue supporters, the peremptory challenge is still a valuable tool in trial proceedings.

Those who argue for the abolition of the peremptory challenge come from two camps. One camp believes that the Batson line of cases was a mistake. This group would prefer to return to unrestricted use of the challenge but, knowing that overturning precedent is unlikely, recommends eliminating the challenge. The other camp believes that the racial, gender, and religious affiliation tests crafted by the courts are idealistic creations that are easily subverted in daily courtroom practice. The reality is that allegations of bias using Batson rarely are successful.

The group that believes that the changes following Batson were a mistake argues that the whole point of the peremptory challenge is that it is made totally within the discretion of the lawyer. A trial lawyer may have a gut feeling about a juror, a feeling that is difficult to articulate to a judge and does not rise to a for-cause strike. Prior to Batson a court would allow this type of peremptory challenge. Since Batson the lawyer is required to articulate a reason. The temptation for the lawyer is to invent a "reasonable" explanation rather than risk having the peremptory challenge denied.

These critics argue that the only way for a lawyer to protect a client under this new system is to interrogate prospective jurors concerning intimate, personal matters in order to create defensible grounds for striking them. Lawyers must take more notes during questioning and spend more time evaluating the answers of jurors. The selection of a jury is lengthened if this tactic is chosen, placing more pressure on an overtaxed court system. Therefore, contend these critics, it would be better to abolish peremptory challenges and try other methods of jury selection. One alternative is expanding challenges for cause, allowing lawyers to exclude prospective jurors for legitimate, articulated reasons that do not satisfy the tougher current standards of challenges for cause.

The other group that questions Batson points to the difficulty of achieving the racially neutral selection of a jury. Surveys have shown that motions to deny peremptory challenges because of race or gender bias are rarely made, and that when they are judges accept all types of questionable race-neutral explanations to refute them. Thinking in the legal community over this issue has led state judiciaries to reflect on the best course to take. For example, the Florida Supreme Court-appointed Jury Innovations Committee issued a report in 2002 that recommended the elimination of peremptory challenges.


Griebat, Jeb C. 2003. "Peremptory Challenge by Blind Questionnaire: The Most Practical Solution for Ending the Problem of Racial and Gender Discrimination in Kansas Courts While Preserving the Necessary Function of the Peremptory Challenge." The Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy 12 (winter).

Jones, Barbara. 2003. "Peremptory Challenge Should Have Been Granted." Minnesota Lawyer (July 14).

Montz, Vivien Toomey, and Craig Lee Montz. 2000. "The Peremptory Challenge: Should It Still Exist? An Examination of Federal and Florida Law." Univ. of Miami Law Review 54 (April).



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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Jokes to Robert Marion La FolletteJury - History, Minnesota's Approach To A More Diverse Jury Pool, Should The Peremptory Challenge Be Abolished?