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jury

n. one of the remarkable innovations of the English common law (from the Angles and Saxons, but also employed in Normandy prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066), it is a group of citizens called to hear a trial of a criminal prosecution or a lawsuit, decide the factual questions of guilt or innocence or determine the prevailing party (winner) in a lawsuit and the amount to be paid, if any, by the loser. Once selected, the jury is sworn to give an honest and fair decision. The legal questions are determined by the judge presiding at the trial, who explains those issues to the members of the jury (jurors) in "jury instructions." The common number of jurors is 12 (dating back a thousand years), but some states allow a smaller number (six or eight) if the parties agree. For a plaintiff (the party suing) to win a lawsuit with a jury, three-quarters of the jurors must favor the claim. Guilt or innocence in a criminal trial requires a unanimous decision of the jury, except two states (Oregon and Louisiana) allow a conviction with 10 of 12 jurors. Juries have greatly changed in recent decades, as the term "impartial jury" in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution requires that the pool of jurors must include all races, ethnic groups and women as well as men in percentages relative to the general population. Any failure to achieve that balance or systematic challenges to those of the same ethnicity of the accused, may result in a claim on appeal that the jury was not fair-in popular jargon, not "a jury of one's peers." This does not mean that a Samoan male must be tried by other Samoan males, but it does mean that the potential jurors must come from a balanced group. Members of the jury are supposed to be free of bias, have no specific knowledge of the case and have no connection with any of the parties or witnesses. Questions are asked by the judge and attorneys (called "voir dire") during jury selection to weed out those whom they may challenge on those grounds (challenge for cause). Some potential jurors are challenged (peremptory challenge) because the attorney for one side or the other feels there is some hidden bias. In well-financed cases this has led to the hiring of jury "specialists" and psychologists by attorneys to aid in jury selection. In a high-profile criminal case in which the jury might be influenced by public comment or media coverage during trial, the court may order the jury be sequestered (kept in a hotel away from family, friends, radio, television and newspapers.)

See also: challenge for cause  juror  jury panel  jury trial  peremptory challenge  sequester  venire  voir dire 

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The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill Publisher Fine Communications