A jury is a body of people sworn to render an impartial verdict that gets submitted to them by a court. This system can also ask a group of jurors to set penalties or judgments. This legal setup first developed in England during the Middle Ages, and it has become a trademark of the Anglo-American governments ever since. Any country that uses a legal system that descended from these legal traditions is still commonly using it.
Most jury systems use what is called “petit juries.” This group involves 12 convened individuals that get tasked with listening to both sides of a case in an adversarial justice system. Then the court will submit the information and merits of each side for review to render a verdict, penalty, or judgment.
A grand jury is another possible component of this system. This larger body investigates potential crimes and has the power to render indictments. Only Liberia and the United States continue to use this option.
Several jury system advantages and disadvantages are worth considering when looking at this unique legal structure that merges the past with the present.
List of the Advantages of a Jury System
1. It keeps the criminal justice system within the community.
Juries get convened by a mandated request from local governments. When you register to vote in the United States, then you’re also making yourself available to the jury system. The reason for this advantage is simple: the goal of this approach is to create a trial that will eventually get judged by a person’s peers. It creates a random sampling from a list of people that both sides can manage to try to leverage a fair result.
Although there are times in history when this system has failed, having a jury listen to a case typically creates a fair result since a majority or unanimity is necessary to have a verdict, penalty, or judgment.
2. Jury systems work to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias from the system.
The reason why most people in a community get added to a jury selection list is that the size of the population group works to reduce the chance for bias in the verdict. It isn’t a 100% guaranteed process, which is why both sides of a case get to interview potential jurors to see if they believe a fair outcome is possible. The plaintiff and the defendant have some rights to remove people that they feel wouldn’t offer a fair perspective.
By taking this approach to the jury system, governments are reducing the impact of conscious and unconscious bias from entering into the judgments offered.
3. The jury system works to keep everyone connected to their civic responsibilities.
Civic responsibilities are the actions that every person in each community takes to support the public good. People participate in the jury system as a way to protect the specific rights that they enjoy daily. When individuals take the time to serve during a trial or investigation, then their contributions help to create structures that help everyone. It can be a significant time commitment depending on the arguments being presented, but most people can take care of this responsibility by being available for about two weeks each year.
4. Courts reserve the right to overrule when bias seems to exist.
The goal of the justice system is to create an impartial look at a criminal or civil case. When a jury seems to offer a partial judgment for any reason, then there are controls in place that can help to correct the situation. An extensive appeals process allows for different court levels to review cases, reverse findings, send verdicts back – or confirm what the jury brought back as a verdict, penalty or judgment.
Most legal systems give a judge the authority to stop a case from proceeding if there is a belief that the jury has not acted in an ethical or legal capacity.
5. The accuracy rate of a jury is typically quite high.
The accuracy rate of verdicts issued by the jury system in the United States consistently hovers at the 99.97% mark. Even when prosecutors bring cases before the court for personal reasons instead of professional ones, most juries can catch the issues and render a fair outcome for the individual charged or sued. Although no system is 100% perfect, the accuracy rate of this legal structure makes it one of the most effective systems in the world.
It is because of these high accuracy levels that the average person accepts the verdict of a case when there isn’t apparent bias, even if they disagree with the decision.
6. People must meet specific requirements so that they can serve on a jury.
Most countries will not allow someone to serve on a jury until they reach the age of 18. The United States allows an individual who is over the age of 70 to be excused from this service with proof of age if they’ve served within the past two years. Anyone who works as a volunteer firefighter or as a member of a rescue squad can make the same claim. People who work as part of an ambulance crew are also considered to have a valid excuse from jury service.
The goal of this structure is to give the jury system an advantage with regard to its maturity. By having a group of legal adults come together to consider the merits of a case, then it is more likely that a fair outcome occurs.
7. The jury system uses a specific group size to help reduce bias.
The traditional structure of a jury requires 12 people to serve, and this option is still used quite regularly in the governments that use the English approach from the Middle Ages. Most countries that use this option for their judicial system require a minimum of six people to serve on a jury, and anything that’s smaller than 12 may require a unanimous verdict to be considered a valid result.
Although different size requirements exist around the world the one theme that remains true for everyone is that a group of people makes a decision instead of a single individual.
8. Jurors receive compensation for their service.
The amount that jurors get paid for their service depends on whether it is a state or federal trial in the United States. Federal jurors currently receive $50 per day for their service. The U.S. government allows them to receive up to $60 per day after serving 45 days on a grand jury, while employees of the federal government continue to receive their salary while being part of this legal system.
Each state sets its own compensation rules. Jurors in Washington State may receive up to $25 per day according to RCW 2.36.15, but cannot receive less than $10 per day. That means most counties choose to pay the minimum amount. Some states require employers to continue paying a worker’s salary while serving on a jury with proper documentation.
List of the Disadvantages of a Jury System
1. Juries are under no obligation to offer a decision based on facts.
Although this disadvantage doesn’t occur as often today as it did in the past, the jury system isn’t under an obligation to make a decision based on the facts of the case. An individual can make a decision on a verdict, judgment, or penalty based on their personal beliefs. If the plaintiff or defendant in the case has inadequate legal representation, then it could be possible to “stack the jury” in their favor.
In one famous incident, a jury found a millionaire to be not guilty of murder because of what a lawyer argued was “dementia Americana.” It was a supposed phenomenon where American men became temporarily insane when someone tainted the virtue of their wives.
2. Inaccurate jury decisions happen more often in violent and capital incidents.
Although the error rate for the jury system consistent stands at 0.03%, the majority of the cases that do result in an inaccurate decision typically involve violent felonies and capital murder cases. Research dating to 2014 that uses the current exoneration rate of people convicted and then set free because of new information suggests that up to 4% of individuals receive an incorrect verdict, judgment, or penalty as an outcome.
With an error rate that high, 4 people out of every 100 don’t receive justice under the jury system. Capital convictions represent only 0.1% of all convictions in the United States, but they also represent 12% of inaccurate verdicts.
3. The jury system still represents classism within society.
The average person in the United States cannot afford an attorney if they encounter legal or civil issues that bring them to court. This disadvantage is one of the reasons why many lawyers work for a percentage of the judgment. It is also representative of the cost that people must pay to become a professional in this system in the first place.
Tuition costs at law schools in the United States are consistently above $40,000 per year, with some institutions charging upwards of $75,000 annually. Attending a public law school in the U.S. cuts that cost by about 50% – if you qualify for in-state enrollment. You must either go into significant debt or have substantial resources to qualify, and that’s why only 1 in 4 lawyers say that their education was worth the investment.
4. Juries aren’t always required to come up with a unanimous verdict.
Some countries allow a verdict to happen if a majority of the jury decides on a specific verdict, judgment, or penalty. Australia allows majority verdicts in some states, permitting a single dissenter to exist without disrupting the final outcome. New Zealand allows verdicts to pass at a similar ratio. It may be possible in some situations to have a 7-5 decision go through with a 12-person jury in some situations.
If a unanimous decision can’t be reached, the criminal trials may offer a reduced sentence to the defendant because of this outcome. Only Oregon and Louisiana allow a jury decision of 11-1 or 10-2 to stand.
5. The jury system rarely addresses civil matters from a global perspective.
Only the United States routinely uses a jury to settle civil matters in the judicial system. Although there are some exceptions globally based on different court structures, this disadvantage creates a circumstance where the criminal systems are different from the civil ones.
6. Juries can take a long time to reach a decision.
Because a jury must come up with a unanimous decision or ten votes to convict, it can take a significant amount of time to deliberate the merits of a case. The longest amount of time a jury in the United States took to make a decision came in a 1992 case when a California jury needed 4.5 months to reach an outcome. One case in Great Britain took 20 months to conclude. It generally takes much longer for cases to get presented and decided under this system than in other judicial formats.
7. It can create financial hardships for the people who serve on a jury.
Most jury systems put in safeguards that prevent people from suffering from a financial loss when they’re called to serve. If you’re self-employed, the only working parent, or have no other way to support yourself, then an excusal will usually occur. “Usually” is not the same as “always.” The average person in the U.S. receives $22 per day for their service, and the first day of service doesn’t always receive compensation. It usually takes the government a full month to issue a check.
Employers must hold your job if you serve on a jury, but there isn’t a requirement to pay you during service. An extended trial could create a significant financial hardship from which it could take a long time to recover.
The advantages and disadvantages of the jury system suggest that the structure works well to reduce bias so that fair verdicts, judgments, and penalties get issued from the judicial system. Since this structure was created by humans, there are moments of imperfection where innocent people slip through the cracks. This issue tends to take place more often when emotional cases get heard, especially in murder cases and violent felonies.
Even with its potential concerns, the jury system is approaching 1,000 years of use in human government because of its effectiveness. It does an excellent job of involving the community in the cause of justice while providing as many rights and protections as possible for those accused of wrongdoing.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.