What is a Jury?

“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."
--Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence and third U.S. President

A Jury is a group of citizens which hears the testimony in legal disputes and
determines what it believes is the truth.
The word jury is derived from the French
jurer, which means "to swear an oath."


Rebellious English barons forced the despotic and cash-strapped King John to
approve the Magna Carta in 1215 at Runnymede, southwest of London, near where Windsor castle stands today.
One of its articles says that no freeman shall be imprisoned, deprived of
property, exiled, or destroyed, except by the lawful judgment of his peers
(equals) or by the law of the land.  The idea of due process of law, including
trial by jury, is said to have developed from this.

Throughout the British colonies of North America, juries were used in both civil
and criminal trials.  Jury trials were highly regarded by the colonists, because
they served as a means of preventing enforcement of unpopular British laws.
After 1776 the early state constitutions safeguarded the right to a jury trial
in both criminal and civil cases, but the federal Constitution of 1789
guaranteed the right to a jury trial in criminal cases only.  This was remedied
by the Bill of Rights, which was adopted in 1791.  The 7th Amendment guarantees the right of a jury trial in all civil cases in which the amount of judgment might exceed 20 dollars. The 6th Amendment guarantees the right of a jury trial in all criminal proceedings.


Interestingly, the expression “A jury of one’s peers” comes from the Magna Carta, and is found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution.  The 6th amendment to the Constitution simply guarantees the right to “a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury…”


Types of Juries:
In the United States, the law provides for three types of juries: (1)
petit, (2)
grand, and (3) coroner's.


·          Petit juries.  A petit, or petty, jury is a trial jury and the most common form of jury.  In a civil lawsuit, a petit jury decides who is at fault and how much money must be paid in damages.  In a criminal trial, the jury decides whether the defendant is or is not guilty.  The jury hears testimony by witnesses, then the lawyer for each side summarizes the case.  In a charge to the jury, the judge explains the laws that apply.  Finally, the jury discusses the case and reaches a verdict.


For MORE information about our jury system, CLICK HERE

What is a Jury?

What is a Jury? page 2

Jury service reform

Model Jury Duty Legislation

Contact Us

  Back to the HOME PAGE