In trials, a group of people who are selected and sworn to inquire into matters of fact and to reach a verdict on the basis of the evidence presented to them.
In U.S. law, decisions in many civil and criminal trials are made by a jury. Considerable power is vested in this traditional body of ordinary men and women, who are charged with deciding matters of fact and delivering a verdict of guilt or innocence based on the evidence in a case. Derived from its historical counterpart in English COMMON LAW, trial by jury has had a central role in U.S. courtrooms since the colonial era, and it is firmly established as a basic guarantee in the U.S. Constitution. Modern juries are the result of a long series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted this constitutional liberty and, in significant ways, extended it.
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.
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...