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A Unique Civil Right in the United States: Trial by Jury

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Most civil rights recognized in the United States are also recognized by other developed countries. However, the right to a trail by jury is unique to the United States, as many other countries have other systems in place for court proceedings. In fact, a Grand Jury trial is found almost nowhere else in the world. This right, given to all United States citizens with the Sixth Amendment, is an important one to understand so that you are prepared in case you are ever accused of a crime.

A jury is comprised of 12 people. Both the defending and prosecuting sides of the case must approve these people, and in many cases, this is not a problem. In high-profile cases, jury selection can be a long process. Most of the time, people from the general public are randomly selected and are required to report for jury duty. Juries cannot learn about the trial from any source other than the trial itself and may be sequestered (kept from all outside sources in a controlled environment) for the length of the trial. The jury’s deliberations are kept in complete secrecy.

In a criminal case, a Grand Jury first reviews the evidence to determine if there is (or is not) reason for a trial. This happens at both the State and Federal court levels. If they determine that there is cause for trial, a date is set and the prisoner is apprehended and may be released on bail. A petit jury then hears the main trial.

The job of the petit jury is to determine if the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This verdict must be determined purely on the facts presented to them, not on assumptions or personal beliefs. In some cases, the jury is also responsible for recommending a verdict, although most of the time the judge has the final say on the verdict.

There are no set proceedings for jury deliberation. In most cases, the first step is to elect a foreman. The foreman is the person who leads deliberation, speaks to the judge if necessary, and announces the verdict in court. In “open and shut cases”, deliberation goes quite quickly, as everyone simply votes and goes back to court, so the jury might elect a foreman at the end of deliberations just to announce the verdict.

When a jury can’t come to a decision, they are said to be “hung”. In criminal cases, the jury’s decision must be unanimous (in civil cases, majority rules). After extensive deliberation if no unanimous vote is reached, a mistrial is declared. The case may then be declared a mistrial and ended completely, or it may be retried, depending on the circumstances of the individual case. This aspect of the court’s jury system has been highly criticized, as it is easy for a jury to be hung and a trail to be declared a mistrial.

While the court system is in no way foolproof, it is a rather fair system if you are accused by a crime. Trial by jury is one of the most important civil rights, as it can ensure that you are treated fairly even if you are unjustly accused.

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