The jury trial, is a common law process by which the "peers of the accused" are responsible for listening to a dispute, evaluating the evidence presented, deciding on the facts, and making a decision in accordance with the rules of law and their jury instructions. Some jurisdictions allow the defendant to waive their right to a jury trial, this leading to a bench trial. Trial by jury is rarely used in civil law jurisdictions, although many civil law jurisdictions do have lay assessors. Jury trials tend to occur only when a crime is considered serious. Because jury trials tend to be high profile, the general public tends to overestimate the frequency of jury trials.
Typically a jury consists of 12 jurors.
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The United States
The vast majority of US criminal cases are not settled
by a jury, but rather by plea bargain. Both prosecutors and defendants often have a strong interest in resolving the criminal case by negotiation.
Jury selection is a rather complicated process. A jury is made up from a list of citizens living in the jurisdiction of the court. When selected, being a juror is in principle compulsory. However, jurors can be dismissed for several reasons and many people are released from serving on a jury. People can, for instance, claim hardship if they take care of their children. It is sometimes said that a jury is not "a jury of one's peers", but is instead "twelve people too stupid to get out of jury duty."
In the US, trial by jury is also available in many civil cases.
Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas
In Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas (US-1989) it was ruled: "offenses for which the maximum period of incarceration is six months, or less, are presumptively petty...a defendant can overcome this, and become entitled to a jury trial,..by showing that additional penalties [such as monetary fines]...are...so severe [as to indicate] that the legislature clearly determined that the offense is a serious one."
Juries are used in the assize courts that judge severe crimes such as murder, rape, acts of barbary (torture) and crimes against humanity (in practice, most of the cases judged are rapes). The jury is made of 9 lay jurors in first instance and 12 on appeal, supplemented with 3 professional judges. It judges first on the guilt of the accused, then on the appropriate penalty.
Jury selection is a rather complicated process. A jury is made up from a list of citizens registered for voting in the jurisdiction of the court, but there are exemptions (because of old age, for instance) and incompatabilities with certain public positions. Attendance is otherwise compulsory, but costs and loss of pay are compensated by the state.