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Right to Jury Trial

Right to Jury Trial

Among other important rights, the United States Constitution provides the right to a jury trial.  Specifically, the Sixth Amendment guarantees that anyone accused of a crime has the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.  In the civil context, the Seventh Amendment provides that the right to a trial by jury shall be preserved where the value in controversy exceeds twenty dollars.

The right to a jury trial is especially important in criminal cases because a criminal defendant (a person accused of a crime) does not bear the burden of proof.  That is to say, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the charged crimes because a criminal defendant is innocent until proven guilty.  In that regard, a criminal defendant does not have to provide any evidence.  Moreover, a criminal defendant has the right to remain silent.  The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides the right against self-incrimination.  In other words, a criminal defendant may not be forced to testify against himself.  Additionally, his refusal to testify may not be used against him.

Other important rights associated with the right to a jury trial in criminal cases are a criminal defendant’s right to be represented by an attorney and a criminal defendant’s right to confront his accusers.  Even though a criminal defendant is not required to provide any evidence at trial, he has the right to cross-examine all of the witnesses who testify against him.  This is an important right because it requires witnesses who testify against a criminal defendant to come to court, take a sworn oath to tell the truth, and be questioned by the criminal defendant’s attorney.  

Usually, a criminal jury is comprised of twelve people.  In order to convict a criminal defendant, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict.  A deadlocked jury that is unable to reach a unanimous verdict is said to be a “hung jury.”  When a trial results in a hung jury, the prosecution has the discretion to retry the case.

Most criminal cases do not result in jury trials, but rather, they are resolved by a plea bargain negotiated by the criminal defendant’s attorney and the prosecuting attorney.