Encyclopedic Entry

Judges rarely, if ever, allow photographs of a jury in their courtroom.

Photograph courtesy the National Archives

The Tribe Has Spoken
The jury on the television show Survivor is made up of eliminated contestants on the reality series. This may be the most literal example of a jury of your peers.

Survivor started in Sweden and now has versions in 13 countries around the world, including South Africa, the Philippines, and, of course, the United States.

International Criminal Court
The International Criminal Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, tries people accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The International Criminal Court does not use juries.

A jury is a group of people selected to determine specific facts, according to specific evidence. This can be a legal jury, a group of people who swear to determine the facts of a court case. A jury can also determine winners in competitions, such as art.

Many countries use juries as part of their legal system. In most countries that use juries, they are triers of fact, meaning juries determine the facts present in the case. Judges, on the other hand, are triers of law, meaning they determine the legal issues in the case.

Legal Juries in the U.S.

In the United States, a jury begins with a call for jury duty. To be eligible for jury duty, one must be a legal citizen of the U.S., be at least 18 years old, have no record of felony crime charges, be able to speak English, and live in the jurisdiction, or area in which the jury is called, for at least a year. Most citizens are called for jury duty at least once in their lives. Jury duty is not optional.

Jury selection eliminates most potential jurors. Part of the reason is that most legal disputes are settled without trials.

Jurors selected for trials are questioned by attorneys and approved or rejected. Potential jurors who have a conflict of interest in a case are not allowed to be on that cases jury. A conflict of interest is when a person has knowledge of the case, such as knowing one of the people involved, that may unfairly influence their fact-finding abilities. In states that have the death penalty, such as Texas and South Dakota, jurors in death-penalty cases must be death-qualified. A death-qualified jury is not opposed to the death penalty.

There are two major types of legal juries in the U.S.: a grand jury and a trial jury. A grand jury is made up of 23 people who decide if there is enough evidence to proceed with a full trial. Grand juries do not decide guilt or innocence, just if there should be a trial at all. A grand jury is used in about half of the states in the U.S.

A trial jury, also known as a petit jury, is the most familiar type of jury to most Americans. The U.S. uses juries for most types of trials, from murder to bank robbery. Some other countries use juries less regularly. Most countries do not use juries at all.


The number of jurors used in jury trials varies. In the U.S., juries are made up of 12 jurors. In Brazil, its seven. In Norway, its 10.

Juries can decide the facts in criminal and civil cases. Criminal cases are those where the government (the state, county, or nation) is prosecuting, or carrying out the legal action. Defendants in criminal cases are accused of committing crimes not allowed by the government, such as murder or robbery. Civil cases are those where one individual or organization is prosecuting another. Examples of civil cases a jury might hear are property and contract disputes. Civil cases usually involve money, while criminal cases can involve the possibility of imprisonment.

After hearing evidence from the prosecution and the defense, juries decide the facts. They are sometimes given specific rules, called jury instructions, from the judge in the trial. Jurors take notes during the trial, listen to jury instructions, then discuss the case with each other. These discussions are called jury deliberations. Jury deliberations are led by the leader of the jury, called a jury foreman.

Juries return their verdict, or decision, to the judge. In some jurisdictions, the verdict must be unanimous, meaning all jurors must agree. In other jurisdictions, the verdict must simply reflect the majority. A jury that is unable to reach a verdict is called a hung jury. At this point, the judge declares a mistrial. The case may or may not be retried.

If a jury believes a law is unjust or unfair, it can reject that law. This controversial practice is called jury nullification. This happens rarely, and usually involves the jury allowing the accused person to be excused of the crime despite evidence of guilt. Juries that practice jury nullification believe rejecting the unfair law is more important than punishing the person who broke the unfair law. Judges do not support jury nullification. Jurors can sometimes be expelled from juries for considering the law itself, instead of the facts of the specific case.

In other countries, such as the United Kingdom, a similar situation exists. Its called jury equity and is tolerated a little more than it is in the U.S.


Legal Juries

There are three major types of legal systems that use juries: common law, civil law, and religious law. There is wide variation within each type of legal system.

The U.S. uses a common law system, meaning legal decisions are made through a series of courts. The U.S. uses juries for both criminal and civil trials. Canada also uses a common law system, and uses juries for the most serious types of criminal trials, such as murder. India uses a common law system, but outlawed the use of juries in all trials in 1960.

Most countries use civil law, in which legal decisions are made based on a collected series of rules, not judges or court cases. Russia has a civil law system that rarely uses juries for either criminal or civil trials. Indonesia has a civil law system that never uses juries.

Few countries use religious law as a national legal system. It is most common in the Middle East, where countries look to the holy book of Islam, the Quran, for guidance. This law, called Shariah and fiqh, allows for juries. Iran uses juries for some criminal cases.

Other Types of Juries

Less formal juries exist all over the world. These juries are often used for judging goods and services. Local groups can select juries to judge the quality of local services, such as auto repair or hairdressing.

Juried art shows can be very prestigious. The Venice Biennale, held every two years in Venice, Italy, was established in 1895. It is probably the most famous juried art show in the world. The annual Cannes Film Festivals awards are decided by an international jury of film directors, writers, and actors who gather in Cannes, France, to judge the competition.

Blue-ribbon juries are a unique type of non-trial jury. Blue-ribbon juries are often selected by the government, often in cooperation with nonprofit organizations. Blue-ribbon juries study a specific problem, such as air pollution or urban crime, and make recommendations. Jurors are usually experts in the area being studied, such as university professors or business leaders.

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

air pollution

Noun

harmful chemicals in the atmosphere.

Encyclopedic Entry: air pollution

annual

Adjective

yearly.

attorney

Noun

lawyer.

blue-ribbon jury

Noun

group of people with special qualifications selected to determine facts surrounding a legal issue.

business

Noun

sale of goods and services, or a place where such sales take place.

Cannes Film Festival

Noun

annual competition and exposition of movies from around the world.

citizen

Noun

member of a country, state, or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member.

civil case

Noun

legal dispute involving individuals or organizations, not the government.

civil law

Noun

legal system based on a code or system of rules and regulations.

common law

Noun

legal system based on courts and judicial decisions.

conflict of interest

Noun

situation where one activity or relationship may unfairly influence another.

controversial

Noun

questionable or leading to argument.

county

Noun

political unit smaller than a state or province, but typically larger than a city, town, or other municipality.

Encyclopedic Entry: county

court

Noun

building or room where legal professionals decide the law and administer justice.

crimes against humanity

Noun

severe acts of violence supported directly or indirectly by the government or other authority, usually against groups of people.

criminal case

Noun

legal dispute involving the government.

death penalty

Noun

punishment by execution. Also called capital punishment.

death-qualified jury

Noun

group of impartial people who decide the facts in a legal dispute where the death penalty is a possible punishment.

defendant

Noun

person or organization accused of a crime.

determine

Verb

to decide.

dispute

Noun

debate or argument.

eligible

Adjective

qualified or worthy.

eliminate

Verb

to remove.

establish

Verb

to form or officially organize.

evidence

Noun

data that can be measured, observed, examined, and analyzed to support a conclusion.

expel

Verb

to eject or force out.

felony

Noun

serious crime with punishment including imprisonment or death.

film

Noun

movie or motion picture.

fiqh

Noun

legal system used by Islamic governments. Also called al-fiqh.

genocide

Noun

intentional mass murder of a specific religious, cultural, or ethnic group.

good

Noun

object or service that serves a human need or want.

government

Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

grand jury

Noun

group of people who decide if there are enough facts to proceed with a legal trial.

hung jury

Noun

group of people who cannot reach a decision on the facts of a legal issue.

imprison

Verb

to confine or put in a jail-like facility.

influence

Verb

to encourage or persuade a person or organization to act a certain way.

international

Adjective

having to do with more than one country.

International Criminal Court

Noun

organization that tries people accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Islam

Noun

religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

judge

Noun

person elected or appointed to decide legal cases.

jurisdiction

Noun

geographic region associated with a legal authority.

jury

Noun

group of people selected to determine facts in a specific case.

Encyclopedic Entry: jury

jury deliberation

Noun

discussion of a legal case by the group of people selected to determine facts in that case.

jury duty

Noun

service as part of a group of people selected to determine the facts in a legal dispute.

jury equity

Noun

power of a jury to reach a verdict in violation of a law they feel is unjust.

jury foreman

Noun

leader of a group of people selected to determine facts in a legal dispute.

jury instructions

Noun

rules outlined by a judge for a jury to follow.

jury nullification

Noun

situation where a jury excuses a defendant despite facts against that defendant.

law

Noun

public rule.

legal system

Noun

method for determining and enforcing laws.

Middle East

Noun

region of southwest Asia and northeast Africa.

murder

Verb

to kill a person.

nation

Noun

political unit made of people who share a common territory.

Encyclopedic Entry: nation

nonprofit organization

Noun

business that uses surplus funds to pursue its goals, not to make money.

oppose

Verb

to be or act against something.

petit jury

Noun

group of people selected to determine facts in a specific case, according to specific evidence. Also called a trial jury.

potential

Noun

possibility.

prestigious

Adjective

having a good reputation.

proceed

Verb

to go forward.

professor

Noun

highest-ranking teacher at a college or university.

property

Noun

goods or materials owned by someone.

prosecute

Verb

to accuse and carry out legal action against a person or organization.

Quran

Noun

holy book of the Islamic religion.

religious law

Noun

legal system based on a spiritual faith.

robbery

Noun

illegal taking of another person's or organization's property.

select

Verb

to choose.

Shariah

Noun

set of laws based on the Quran and other Islamic sources.

specific

Adjective

exact or precise.

state

Noun

political unit in a nation, such as the United States, Mexico, or Australia.

tolerate

Verb

to endure, allow, or put up with.

trial jury

Noun

group of people selected to determine facts in a specific case, according to specific evidence. Also called a petit jury.

unanimous

Adjective

being totally united in support or rejection of an idea or vote.

urban

Adjective

having to do with city life.

Venice Biennale

Noun

art competition and exhibition held every other year in Venice, Italy.

verdict

Noun

legal decision made by a judge or jury.

war crime

Noun

severe acts of violence, violating international law, committed against civilians, enemies, prisoners of war, or others during an armed conflict.

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writers

Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Santani Teng
Erin Sprout
Hilary Costa
Hilary Hall
Jeff Hunt

Illustrators

Tim Gunther
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society

Editors

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Educator Reviewer

Nancy Wynne

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Sources

Dunn, Margery G. (Editor). (1989, 1993). "Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

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