A trial by jury is one of the most important rights we have as citizens. Some of the most important societal changes have occurred because of verdicts rendered by juries, groups of men and women from their local community. Jury verdicts have resulted in products being made better and safer, improved conditions in public places where people gather and socialize, and laws being enacted to improve our health, safety and well-being. The largest corporations in America can be held accountable for all types of irresponsible and illegal actions by juries. Juries are protectors of our rights. Their importance in our legal system cannot be overemphasized.
In most states, the right to a jury trial is guaranteed. If you request a jury trial, one will be granted.
What does the jury do?
The jury hears all of the evidence and then decides 'the facts'. In a jury trial, the role of the jury is to decide what really happened and who is responsible. After the evidence is presented, the judge instructs the jury on the law which it is to apply to the facts of the case. Thus, the judge might instruct a jury that if it finds that a doctor in a medical malpractice case did not provide the proper standard of care, the jury may award the plaintiff an amount of money designed to compensate her for her pain and suffering and all of the damages she suffered as a result of the defendant's conduct.
Some victims, however, choose to have a non-jury trial. In non-jury trials, the judge hears and decides the case. There is no jury. The judge alone determines the facts and applies the law to the facts. The judge also determines the amount of damages to award in these cases.
Finally, some people agree to have their case arbitrated. In these cases, a panel of anywhere from one to three arbitration judges (usually lawyers) will decide the facts and arrive at a decision as to whether liability exists, and if so, the amount of damages the plaintiff is to receive. Cases in arbitration can usually move faster than those being litigated in state court.