American citizens’ rights to a trial by jury are protected by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. A fair trial is synonymous with a jury trial. Jurors have the serious responsibility of deciding on the facts of the case. Jurors do not act as investigators. They have to rely on only the information presented to them by the attorneys. Attorneys for both sides present evidence to the jury during the trial. Once the jury has heard all of the case, they deliberate, or decide, the case. Deliberation can last anywhere from a few minutes to many weeks, depending on the case.
A jury must decide a civil case by the “preponderance” of the evidence. That means a person wins the case if that person’s evidence is the most persuasive, even if it is only slightly more persuasive than the other person’s evidence. Imagine a set of perfectly balanced scales and adding one sheet of paper to either side of the scale. Even that slight of a tipping in the favor of one side over the other is a “preponderance” of the evidence in that person’s favor.
In a criminal case, a jury must find the defendant “not guilty” unless the prosecution proves “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty. The jury can convict a defendant only if the jury is persuaded, beyond any doubt that is reasonable, that the defendant is guilty.
Voir Dire: Different People, Different Experiences
It is important to all cases to have a jury that represents a wide variety of people. The Secretary of State compiles a list of valid drivers licenses and state-issued identification cards from which jurors are selected. The attorneys and the judge begin the screening process, called “voir dire” by asking potential jurors (or “the jury pool”) questions about their attitudes and experiences. For example, someone who was a victim of robbery may not serve a jury well on a robbery or assault case. Attorneys also use instinct to decide if a juror will be able to fairly hear their side of the issue.
Check out the Arkansas Juror’s Web Guide, which provides a comprehensive explanation of the events you will see, the language you will hear, and the role you will assume as a juror: