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US Jury System

The use of juries to decide cases is a distinguishing feature of the American legal system. Few other countries in the world use juries as in the United States. Over the centuries, many people have believed that juries in most cases reach a fairer and more just result than would be obtained using a judge alone, as many countries do. Because a jury decides cases after "deliberations," or

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discussions, among a group of people, the jury's decision is likely to have the input from many different people from different backgrounds, who must as a group, decide what is right.

The Juries are used in both civil cases, which decide disputes among private citizens, and criminal cases, which decide cases brought by the government alleging that individuals have committed crimes.

All US citizens are liable to be selected for jury duty. A person may be exempted when:

  • When the juror is ill, or when on account of serious illness in the juror's family, the presence of the juror is required at home;

  • When the juror's attendance would cause a serious financial loss to the juror or to the juror's business; or

  • When the juror is under an emergency, fairly equivalent to those mentioned in the above paragraphs.
The judge assigned to the case oversees the selection of jurors to serve as the jury for that case. In some states, the judge questions prospective jurors; in others, the lawyers representing the parties under rules dictated by state law question the jurors.

The US justice system operates at two separate levels of courts, the State and the Federal courts. The case is tried in either of the courts depending upon the law, state of federal, that was violated.

The laws that govern day to day living are state laws, and the violation of federal laws include offences involving federal government employees, crimes committed across state lines (for example, kidnapping or evading arrest), and fraud involving the national government (such as income tax or postal fraud).

Types of Trials

There are two kinds of trials: Criminal and Civil.

Criminal Trial: In a criminal trial, the Government prosecutes an individual for an offence that threatens the security of individual citizens or the society as a whole. Usually, criminal trials involve actions taken because of wicked intent, although cases of extreme negligence are considered criminal.

Civil Trial: In a civil trial, the dispute is usually between two parties.
In both criminal and civil cases, the person charged is the defendant. In criminal trials, the government is the prosecution. In civil trials, the party initiating the action is the plaintiff.

State level trials

Although each state is free to arrange its own court system (within certain constitutionally defined boundaries), most states justice systems have several features in common. The lowest level court in trials where state law is alleged to have been violated is the trial court sometimes referred to as Superior Court or Supreme Court Trial Division. This is the only court with the power to determine the facts involved in a case .If either party involved in the case feels that the trial judge made an error in one of his rulings, they can appeal, or bring the case to a Court of Appeals (or Supreme Court Appellate Division in some states).

Whereas trials are focused around the testimony of witnesses concerning their actions or observations, appeals feature two attorneys attempting to convince a panel of five judges that the law favors their side. The only issue in a Court of Appeals is whether correct trial procedure was followed; attorneys prepare written briefs citing historical precedents and rulings to persuade the panel of judges to rule in their favor. If unsatisfied with the appellate court's ruling, a party can ask for a Writ of Certiorari, which is essentially an appeal to the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Justices have the option of whether or not they wish to hear the case; four Justices must vote to hear it in order to have it brought before the Court. The procedure at this level is similar to that at the appeals court; each attorney addresses the panel of Justices, which can interrupt at almost any time with questions. The ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court is final, though a future Court may overturn that decision.

Federal Level Trials

In cases on the federal level, the action again begins at federal trial courts. Cases can be appealed from there to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, of which there are 13 throughout the country. Rulings of this court can again be appealed to the Supreme Court.

One of the primary reasons that parties in a case might appeal their case to the Supreme Court is because they feel that the law, which they violated, was unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court alone has the power to strike down Federal or state laws that it finds to be contrary to the United States Constitution. In that sense, the judicial system is the guardian of civil liberties in America.

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