They also had the power to decide the merits of evidence and arguments. In the 19th century, judges gained greater control over juries and the role of juries became what it is currently; hearing evidence presented on both sides and determining the guilt or innocence of the accused.
The advantages of the jury system lie in the foundational elements articulated and supported by amendments and the Supreme Court. The Sixth Amendment provides that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial" (Landsman & Hastings 1992). A speedy trial was emphasized to avoid the accused languishing in prison for extended periods of time prior to a trial, or have the accused fate put off for an indeterminate amount of time. Further, the Sixth Amendment guarantees every citizens right to an impartial jury. The intent is that the prospective juries not enter into the trial prejudiced one way or the other even before the trial is initiated. The Supreme Court ruled that no class of people (based on race, ethnicity or gender), could be summarily excluded from jury service. In addition, the accused have the right to be tried in the same location where the crime was committed, to be informed of the charges against them, and they have the right to be confronted with the witnesses that will be testifying against them, in order that a proper defense can be prepared.
Moreover, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no person shall "be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life and limb" (Landsman & Hastings, 1992). This double jeopardy clause means that no one can be tried twice for the same crime by either the state or federal government. However, it does not mean a person may not be tried twice for the same crime if that crime has indeed violated both state and national laws. In addition, the accused cannot be compelled to testify against themselves. The fact that someone elects to not testify on their own behalf may not be used against them by the judge or jury. This effectually supports that the burden of proof is on the state and the accused are considered innocent until proven otherwise with an evidentiary basis beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Fourth Amendment to the constitution maintains that due process ensures that no evidence procured from an illegal search and seizure can be used against the accused during trial. This ruling was designed to eliminate any incentive for police working in cooperation with the state to illegally obtain evidence.
With regard to the jury trial, at the federal level, 12 jurors have to render a unanimous decision. The criteria at the state level applies only to the most egregious and serious crimes. There are a number of states where the jury can be comprised of less than 12 persons and a unanimous verdict is not required.
Potential jurors are summoned to court and questioned in open court regarding their general qualifications to serve. Both the prosecutor and defense attorney are able to raise questions in an effort to determine if the juror is potentially biased or prejudiced in some way; as well as to determine if the juror is capable of rendering an impartial decision. This is both an advantage and a weakness of the jury system. The advantage of this process lies in the fact that jurors are openly questions and thereby openly selected. This may serve to eliminate any clandestine arrangements between the prospective juror and either the defense or prosecuting attorney. Another advantage of this process is that the number of challenges or causes for dismissal of a juror is limited; with the judge ultimately determining if the causes are valid. The disadvantage in this part of the process is that there really does not have to be 'credible' evidence of a juror's inability to serve, and there are times when arbitrary reasons can be given to eliminate a potential juror to avoid the real reason for elimination being made obvious. For example, a juror can be eliminated because of occupation but the real reason they are challenged is due to race or gender; with one side effectually attempting to move the jury closer to the demographics of their client.
The role of the jury during trial is of a passive observer in the sense that they are to listen attentively to the case that is being presented and then reach a decision based solely on the evidence that is put before them. Juries are typically not allowed to raise questions of the witnesses or the judge, nor can they take notes during the proceedings. These 'rules' regarding jury behavior is based on traditional American court practice vs. statutory limits. The jury receives instruction regarding the law from the judge and how the law is to be applied. During instruction, there are times when the judge may have to explain not only the charge as assigned by the state based on their evidence, but also lesser charges that may apply as well. In addition, the judge must remind the jury that the burden of proof in on the state and that the accused is presumed innocent. The jury is reminded that if there is reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused, they must render a not guilty verdict. This is one of the weaknesses noted in the jury system as a number of cases have been overturned on appeal due to faulty jury instruction. Moreover, what is reasonable doubt? What one person considers reasonable may not be reasonable to another. There is no cut and dry definition of reasonable doubt that can be effectively and effectually applied across the board to ensure 'fairness' in verdicts. Regardless of the instructions given, and the efforts taken to secure an objective jury, there are no insurances that prejudice or bias will impact a juror's decision.
The jury deliberates the facts of the case in absolute privacy with no outside observation or participation in the process. Jurors are able to request clarification during deliberation as it relates to clarification of legal questions from the judge. The jury may also look at times of evidence or portions of the transcript but nothing else. This part of the jury process has advantages and disadvantages as well. The fact that law requires the jury to make their decision based on the information and evidence offered during the trial only is designed to ensure no other ancillary information is taken into account. However, the fact that jurors, who come from a variety of backgrounds and educational levels, cannot consult other potentially helpful tools such as law dictionaries, opinions from experts, or other legal writings can be a tremendous disadvantage to the accused. If for some reason the instructions from the judge were not clear, for example, and if parts of the trial some jury members may not have understood, how then are they in a position to make a decision that could significantly impact the life of the accused and in some cases the community at large?
When the jury reaches a decision based on the voting of the members, then they come back into the courtroom for the announcement of the verdict. If however, the jury has not reached a decision and deliberation carries over into nightfall, the jurors are then sent home with direct instructions to neither discuss the case with anyone or watch television or read newspapers about the case. In some high profile cases, the jury is sequestered by the judge and kept away from the public. This is another component of the jury system that has weaknesses; although sequestering a jury has less notable weaknesses. In the case of jurors being sent home with firm instructions, what processes or procedures are in place to ensure they adhere to said instructions? This provision is based on a system of honor that cannot be verified in the way it currently stands. Although jurors take an oath to uphold their end of the bargain, who is to say that they don't watch television, inadvertently see something about the case on the internet, or discuss the situation with friends or loved ones? If they did commit such an infraction, most would not admit to it for fear of causing a mistrial or being kicked off the jury. There are no guarantees that members of the jury are not exposed to additional information once they are allowed to leave the confines of the courtroom.
In the case of juries being sequestered, the court system has far greater control over the kind of information jurors are exposed to, but this safety measure is only utilized in high profile cases. One of the reasons for this is the fact that jury sequestering can be cost prohibitive, particularly if…