The Judge and The Jury
Our judicial branch of government is responsible for enforcing our laws, punishing criminals and resolving disputes between citizens. The services both judge and jury provide are critical to keeping us safe and cohesive as a society.
Within the courtroom, there are many players and each has a distinct job to do. Below we will focus on the judge and the jury and how their respective positions work to enforce our laws and provide justice.
The judge acts as a referee in the courtroom, keeping attorneys in line and making sure all evidence provided is sound and relevant. The judge also instructs the jury and makes sure they perform their duties according to the law.
Judges are required to review and keep abreast of changes in the law. They must continuously study new and review previous cases, so they are prepared for any circumstance that lands on their docket. There must consult federal regulations, case law, state, and local laws.
The judge’s job is difficult due to having to research laws and precedent cases and then interpret how those laws and situations apply to new circumstances. Judges rule on allowing or suppressing evidence during the pretrial phase, and they often have to instruct the jury to “strike from the record” or ignore things they heard in the courtroom, which is deemed invalid.
The judge also decides upon the punishment to be enforced once the jury has made their decision.
The jury is made up of twelve ordinary citizens selected at random for jury duty. It is every U.S. citizen’s responsibility to honor that request except in specific, extenuating circumstances where you absolutely cannot perform as a juror; then you may be excused.
The selection process happens before the trial, during which the lawyer for each side asks potential jurors some questions. Then the attorneys meet with the judge to discuss each prospective juror, and they decide whether or not that person can provide impartial service. If not, they are excused and taken off the list.
Once the jury is selected, they are instructed by the judge on their duties and responsibilities. First, they are not allowed to speak with anyone outside the court about the trial or any details. They may only discuss it amongst themselves when it is time to deliberate, not before. They must also stay away from newspapers, the news or any outside information, which may inhibit their ability to be fair and unbiased.
When it is time for a decision, the judge will again provide instructions on how they are to proceed. The judge will explain how “burden of proof” and elements that are “beyond a reasonable doubt,” factor into their decision. All twelve jurors must agree to the same verdict, or the process continues until they do. If they cannot agree, this is called a “hung jury, ” and can result in a mistrial or the case may have to be re-tried with a brand new jury.