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Jury trial facts for kids

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The Jury by John Morgan
"The Jury", a painting by John Morgan

A jury trial or trial by jury is a legal proceeding in which a jury either makes a decision or makes findings of fact. This is called a verdict. The judge usually follows the jury's verdict in his ruling. It is distinguished from a bench trial, in which a judge or panel of judges make all decisions.


Lizzie Borden Trial Jury
A trial Jury in 1893

William the Conqueror brought to England a system of having witnesses who had any knowledge of a crime, tell the court what they knew. They did this after first swearing an oath. The word juror in English comes from the French jurer (to swear). In the 12th century juries were used by the king to discover and present facts. Usually this was in answer to questions posed by the king or his ministers who made the final decision in the case. Eventually this led to a system where the jury made a verdict based on evidence. In the late colonial period, juries became a tool used to express American discontent with British rule. A series of Navigation Acts prohibited the American colonies from trading directly with the Netherlands, Spain, France, and their colonies. As more and more trade restriction were imposed, the American colonists turned to smuggling. When smugglers were caught, they were brought before juries made up of other colonists. These sympathetic juries often acquitted their fellow colonists. The king, angered at these lawbreakers going free, created new courts that did not allow juries. This was a breach of common law practice and infringed on their rights as British citizens. After the Revolutionary war, the Seventh Amendment's right to a jury trial was written to limit the powers of the executive and the Judicial branches of the new federal government.

Civil trials

The right to a jury trial in civil cases is found in the United States but in very few other places. England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all but done away with civil jury trials in favor of bench trials. Fewer than 1 percent of civil trials in the US are jury trials. The Seventh Amendment prevents judges from overturning a jury verdict in federal cases where the finding of fact is reasonably supported by the evidence. In addition, the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury in criminal trials.

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