Unless you were chosen to serve as a juror, most people don’t know what jury trials are really about. Sure, court room dramas are nice, but movies seldom explain the process. Here are a few points about one of your most important consitutional rights.
The number of jurors: Depending on what court you are being tried, the number of jurors will vary. The district court requires a unanimous decision by 6 jurors. The superior court requires a unanimous decision by 12 jurors. In short, the superior court requires twice as many jurors to return a verdict. One reason for this difference is that the penalties are much more severe in superior court. The stakes being higher, the amount of jurors are also higher.
Alternates: Most judges will sit more jurors than is required. In both the district court and the superior court it is very common for the judge to impanel more jurors than required. Judges will sit alternate jurors in case people have emergencies that arise. If a judge empanels the minimum amount of jurors and a juror is unable to perform his or her duties, then the judge will most likley have to declare a mistrial. To avoid this problem, judges will sit additional jurors.
Impaneling a jury: The amount of time it takes to impanel a jury can very significantly. Essentially, the court wants to impanel an impartial jury and for certain cases this can be difficult. If you have jury duty, I am sure this isn’t something that you want to hear. Cases that particularly take a long time to impanel a jury are cases involving sex offenses. It can take days if not weeks to impanel a jury for a child molestation or rape case. So if you are serving jury duty and find yourself as a potential jury in a sex offense case prepare for a long process.
Decision: As I have mentioned before, a jury decision in Massachusetts needs to be unanimous. This means that the entire jury needs to agree with the decision of guilty or not guilty. As you can imagine, this can make for long jury deliberations.
This post gives you a little background on jury trials. Jury trials are complicated and it is never a good idea to represent yourself in a trial. In the end, it is important to remember that it is not a perfect system. However, it is bar far the best one ever created.
Picture right outside of a MA Court room
For more information:
About the Massachusetts Jury System
Preparing for a jury trial
Glossary of trial terms
Defense of Massachusetts Jury Service System
Anatomy of a jury trial
Vanishing Civil Jury Trials
For more information: visit www.attorneychan.com or contact me at 508-808-8902