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Jury trial
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Jury trial

The jury trial (not to be confused with grand jury proceedings) is a process by which the "peers of the accused" are responsible for listening to a dispute, evaluating the evidence presented, deciding on the facts, and making a decision in accordance with the rules of law and their jury instructions. It is most commonly seen in common law jurisdictions, but is also present in some civil law jurisdictions. Traditionally a jury consists of 12 jurors. However, the number of jurors is often reduced to six by agreement of both parties.

Some jurisdictions allow the defendant to waive their right to a jury trial, this leading to a bench trial. Trial by jury is rarely used in civil law jurisdictions, although many civil law jurisdictions do have lay assessors. Jury trials tend to occur only when a crime is considered serious. Because jury trials tend to be high profile, the general public tends to overestimate the frequency of jury trials. In the United States, for example, the vast majority of cases are settled by plea bargain which removes the need for a jury trial.

In many nations particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, jury trials are seen as a check against state power, and the belief is that a jury is likely to be more sympathetic to the defendant than the state is.

This belief contrasts sharply with popular beliefs in many other nations, in which it is considered bizarre for a person's fate to be put into the hands of untrained laymen. Consider Japan, for instance, which used to have optional jury trials for capital or other serious crimes between 1928 and 1943. The defendent could freely choose whether to have a jury or trial by judges, and the decisions of the jury were non-binding. During the Tōjō-regime this was suspended, arguably due to the popular belief that any defendant who risks his fate on the opinions of untrained laymen is almost certainly guilty.


Juries are used in the assize courts that judge severe crimes such as murder, rape, acts of barbary (torture) and crimes against humanity (in practice, most of the cases judged are rapes). The jury is made of 9 lay jurors in first instance and 12 on appeal, supplemented with 3 professional judges. It judges first on the guilt of the accused, then on the appropriate penalty.

The United States

The vast majority of US criminal cases are not settled by a jury, but rather by plea bargain. Both prosecutors and defendants often have a strong interest in resolving the criminal case by negotiation.

In the US, trial by jury is also available in many civil cases.

Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas

In Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas (US-1989) it was ruled: "offenses for which the maximum period of incarceration is six months, or less, are presumptively petty...a defendant can overcome this, and become entitled to a jury trial,..by showing that additional penalties [such as monetary fines]...are...so severe [as to indicate] that the legislature clearly determined that the offense is a serious one."

See also