What is a trial jury? Learn about how it is different from a grand jury. Plus, get the facts about if a Jury verdict is overturned and what happens if you miss Jury Duty. We answer the most frequent questions about juries. Learn about serving jury duty and the details of how juries work in the US legal system, and more.

What is a Jury?

A jury refers to a group of people chosen to attend a trial, hear the arguments, consider the evidence presented, and be responsible for deliberating on the facts of the case to vote on a case’s verdict. Each citizen in the trial jury is referred to as a juror.

While a judge is an elected or appointed judicial officer that is a crucial part of the justice system (per the U.S. Constitution), a jury is just as vital.

People in the United States who are accused of a crime are provided the right to a trial jury of their peers by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Judges are responsible for presiding over the proceedings, maintaining order, determining what evidence is allowed to be included, instructing the jury on what they can do per the judicial laws, sentencing convicted criminals based on the decided jury’s verdict, and deciding the outcome for bench trials.

In some jurisdictions, the jury will decide the terms of the sentence for certain offenses. This is often the case when it is for a capital offense, and the criminal offense could carry the death penalty, which is referred to as capital punishment (The etymological origin of the word capital punishment is derived from the Latin word capitalis, which is from the word caput as in beheading someone. People have used beheading to kill someone for at least 5000 years)

The outcome and verdict of a case are determined by what the jury decides. Still, the law limits the jury’s options when voting on the verdict, as the different types of charges and offenses will change what the verdict can be.

Ultimately, juries are supposed to consider whether the burden of proof is met based on the authenticity of the evidence, the credibility of witnesses, and the arguments of both parties’ lawyers before voting on a verdict.

Jury legal definition

What is a Grand Jury?

A grand jury is a group of citizens, consisting of 16 to 23 people in federal criminal law cases (as opposed to violating state laws), who are summoned to a hearing and are presented with the evidence put forth by the federal prosecutor.

Grand jury proceedings are kept private and not open to the public or allow the defendant or their attorneys to appear before the court.

Both federal and state laws (not all states) empower a grand jury to determine if there is “probable cause” to believe the defendant has committed a crime and should be indicted of the crime and to stand trial to face the charges against them.

Grand jurors play an integral role in many criminal lawsuits, such as drug trafficking, organized crime, public corruption, and other similar offenses.

When a grand jury decides to issue an indictment, it should be because they found the evidence to point to enough “probable cause” for the investigated person to stand trial.

There is controversy on whether grand juries are good or bad. One prominent complaint people make against the use of grand juries is that they are biased. Prosecutors are the only party that can present evidence that supports their cause, leaving out anything that contradicts their position. The defendants are not allowed to present evidence of why they should not be indicted and, therefore, are not allowed a voice during the grand jury proceeding.

What’s the Difference Between a Jury and a Grand Jury?

The underlying difference between a trial jury and a grand jury is their roles in the United States legal system. Let’s take a look at more differences:

  • Objective: While a trial jury or petit jury is a group of citizens selected to listen to the arguments, evidence, and witnesses and decide the outcome of a case in trial, a grand jury is a group of citizens who are selected to investigate if the defendant has committed the charged crimes, and issues an indictment.
  • Group Size: A trial jury usually consists of 6 to 12 members, while a grand jury can have up to 23 members.
  • Trial: A trial jury usually hears the sides of both parties, i.e., plaintiff and defendant. On the contrary, a grand jury listens to the prosecutor’s side and then votes secretly on whether to bring an indictment of the defendant.
  • The burden of Proof: In a trial jury, the burden of proof is heavily on the prosecutor to prove the defendant guilty. In contrast, for grand juries, the burden of proof is lower as the case is being investigated to decide whether to indict the defendant.

What is Jury Duty?

Jury duty refers to service by community members in the role of jurors in a legal proceeding. Jurors hear the facts and evidence of a case and decide on the verdict. They are integral to the judicial system in the U.S. and are a duty and constitutional right.

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution addresses the right of the accused facing criminal prosecution to an impartial jury.

The Seventh Amendment gives the right for citizens to have a jury trial for any civil case where the amount in controversy is more than $20.

The citizens partaking in jury duty are chosen randomly using their identity documents, such as their driver’s license, and are obligated to serve the jury duty. They must appear before the court for voir dire, a selection or screening process where the jurors are assessed on their ability, credibility, and capability to be part of a court trial.

The jurors are expected to make a fair, unbiased verdict on the case they hear. For jury duty, the citizens are compensated, although the exact amount varies from one state to another. For instance, according to U.S. courts, grand jurors are paid $50 a day. That amount increases to $60 a day after 45 days.

The pay for non-federal jurors starts with the state’s laws. The lowest amount people serving jury duty receive among all the states is $5 a day, and the highest amount is $50 a day.

How Long Does Jury Duty Last?

The jury duty duration may vary from state to state, depending on the type of jury and the lawsuits. It can also vary based on the courts which have summoned the jurors. For grand juries, the jurors have a term of service that is 18 months and have to convene in court monthly for three days to attend grand jury hearings.

For regular trial juries, according to Texas Courts, the average term of service for selected jurors’ jury duty lasts about seven days. However, if someone is not selected for jury duty, the duration could be just part of the business day.

Can a Jury Verdict be Overturned?

Although it is seldom for the jury’s verdict to be overturned, the judge remains the ultimate decision maker of the outcome of a case. If the court feels that the verdict passed by the jury is not in accordance with the law, or if it has been found that the jury has not been unbiased, or if the jury has overlooked crucial facts of the case, made legal errors, the judge can issue a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV).

According to the JNOV judgment, the judge is saying that no jury could have arrived at the verdict which was passed for the case in question. In most scenarios, however, the judge peruses the verdict and, if satisfactory, passes the judgment making it legally binding.

What Happens When a Jury is Deadlocked?

If the federal jury cannot come to a decision, it is termed a ‘hung jury.’ the jurors in the panel must agree to a unanimous decision. In cases where there is a deadlock or the trial has a hung jury, the case may be retried with a new jury panel.

If the same happens again during the second trial, the judge can declare a ‘mistrial’ and discharge the jury panel.

In certain other cases, the judge can bring an Allen charge, also referred to as a dynamite charge, or “charge the minority” jury. Allen charges include instructions to remind the jurors of their responsibility and encourage those in the minority to reconsider their position so a verdict can be reached.

Depending on the case, a jury in deadlock may benefit the plaintiff (prosecutor) or defendant. For instance, the defense can use a hung jury to claim a lack of substantial evidence to hold the defendant guilty.

How Much Does a Jury Trial Cost?

In the U.S., the government typically bears the cost of a jury trial. The cost can vary on many factors, such as the trial’s location, duration, and case complexity.

How Much Does Jury Duty Pay in Texas?

Texas trial jurors are compensated $6 a day for jury duty. According to U.S. courts, for a trial jury, federal petit jurors are paid $50 a day in Texas. Federal trial jurors can get $60 daily after serving ten days on a petit jury in Texas. How much people get paid for jury duty for state-level trials varies from one state to another.

Can You Volunteer for Jury Duty?

No, it is not possible to volunteer for jury duty. The U.S. Courts clearly mention that while the legal system applauds the sentiment, the potential jurors are selected randomly by judicial districts.

Any discrimination in the selection process is prohibited, and the process is usually from voter registration lists or licensed drivers lists. If you would like to participate in jury duty, ensure you are eligible to vote and drive.

What to Wear to Jury Duty?

If you are called to serve jury duty, it is important to dress appropriately for the occasion. Although there is no strict dress code, avoiding casual, revealing attires, clothes in bad condition, or any provocative outfit with logos, slogans, or slurs/offensive words is advised.

  • For men, appropriate attire for jury duty includes pants or khakis, a collared shirt, and dress shoes. Ties are optional, but they can definitely help to create a professional appearance. It is recommended to avoid wearing jeans, t-shirts, slippers, caps, and the like.
  • For women, appropriate attire for jury duty includes a dress or skirt that falls below the knee, dress pants or slacks, and a blouse or sweater. Jurors should dress in “business casual.”

What Happens if You Miss Jury Duty?

Serving jury duty is considered the duty and legal obligation of citizens. Missing jury duty can invite serious repercussions, such as civil or criminal penalties. A citizen who misses jury duty may be sent a warning letter or subpoena to appear at a later date.

However, if they repeatedly fail to respond to the communications and show up at the court, the penalties can be very severe. The penalties can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, which can include fines, imprisonment, and even an arrest warrant.

According to Texas Courts, acceptable reasons for absence include (You must follow instructions on the jury summons to contact property authority):

  1. Physical or Mental Impairments
  2. Inability to Comprehend English
  3. For Religious Holiday
  4. Hardship Excuses
  5. If you are above 70 years of age
  6. Have legal custody of a child below the age of 12
  7. If you are a student
  8. Have already served as a juror in the county during the 24-month period before the date of appearance
    Are a primary caretaker

Who is Eligible for Jury Duty?

To be eligible and qualify for jury duty, you must be:

  1. A citizen of the U.S.
  2. 18 years of age or above
  3. A resident of the state or county where you’ve been summoned as a juror
  4. Not convicted of, or be under indictment or other legal accusation for misdemeanor, theft, or a felony
  5. Of sound mind and good character
  6. Able to read and write

Can a Jury Ask Questions?

No, generally, in most states, jurors are not allowed to ask witnesses questions. However, in some states, the laws allow jurors to interrogate the witnesses, typically done by submitting written questions for the witnesses to answer.

Still, no matter the venue, jurors are expected to listen carefully to the cross-questioning of the attorneys representing the parties.

What is Jury Nullification?

Jury Nullification refers to when the jury passes a not guilty verdict in a criminal case despite believing beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the crime. This may occur when the jury feels the current law is unfair to the defendant or unjustly applied in this case.

In other instances, jury nullification is looked down upon by stating that the jury is bringing their personal opinions and beliefs to the law and diluting justice.

Although jury nullification remains largely a legal concept, it is not often encountered in courtrooms since the judge instructs the laws and rules of the case for the jury.

Historically, jury nullification has been a controversial issue in the United States. People have been charged with jury tampering by spreading pamphlets promoting jury nullification, and it has been used to facilitate slavery with the Fugitive Slave Clause.

Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: May 19, 2023 8:49am CDT