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What Is the Role of a Jury in a Criminal Trial? Contact Us
Indianapolis Criminal & OWI Lawyers > Blog > Criminal Defense > What Is the Role of a Jury in a Criminal Trial?

What Is the Role of a Jury in a Criminal Trial?


Criminal defendants in the United States of America have the right to a fair trial. A fair trial includes having an impartial and neutral jury preside over your criminal trial. However, a jury is not required in every criminal case. The use of a jury may depend on the nature of the crime and jurisdiction. In some cases, defendants can waive their right to a jury trial and choose to have a bench trial. For criminal cases involving juries, the jury members play the vital role in determining the guilt or innocence of the accused. In this article, we discuss the role of a jury in a criminal trial.

The Process of Selecting Jury Members

Before discussing the role of a jury in a criminal trial, it is important to first discuss the jury selection process. The process of choosing jury members is called voir dire. This is a critical part of the trial process. The purpose of voir dire is to ensure impartial and fair jury members for a trial. During the voir dire process, the judge, the attorneys, or both, question potential jury members to determine if they can be fair and impartial. If an attorney has reason to believe that a potential juror cannot be fair, they may request that the individual be excused “for cause” challenge. Attorneys can also excuse potential jury members without stating specific reasons, this a “peremptory challenges.” However, peremptory challenges can’t be used to discriminate based on gender, race, age, or any other constitutionally protected characteristic. The voir dire process continues until the required jury members are selected. Often, a jury is comprised of 12 individuals.

The Role of a Jury in a Criminal Trial

During a criminal trial, the jury is provided with the relevant law in what are called “Jury Instructions.”  They will receive a preview of the cases as each side sees it through “Opening Statements.” They will listen to the presentation of evidence by both sides, and finally the arguments of both sides. It is the Jury member’s role to determine the weight and credibility of the evidence presented, and witnesses who testified.  It is up to jury members to determine whether the prosecutor’s evidence proves that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Jurors must decide whether the accused is guilty based on the facts presented by the prosecution and defense side and the judge’s guidelines on the law. Jury members then apply the relevant laws to the facts presented in court and reach a decision. The closing argument of the attorneys is each side trying to convince the jurors to see the facts, and apply the law, as they see it.

Verdicts in criminal trials must be unanimous. This means that all jury members must agree that a defendant is guilty or not guilty. If the jury finds a defendant guilty, it will depend on the jurisdiction whether the judge, or the jury, determines the sentence.  In Indiana, the sentence is determined by the judge.  On the other hand, if a jury finds a defendant not guilty, the accused is acquitted. Sometimes, jury members cannot agree on a verdict. If this happens, this is a “hung jury.” When this happens, the case can be re-tried.

Contact an Indianapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are facing criminal charges in Indiana, contact our experienced Indianapolis criminal defense lawyers at Rigney Law LLC for legal help.

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