Juries are one of the most important ways that citizens can directly participate in their government. A jury is a panel of citizens that determines the facts of a legal case. Juries are used in both civil and criminal trials.Civil trials are legal cases between two private individuals. If a jury finds a person is at fault in a civil case the punishment usually includes some type of restitution and/or fine. In a criminal trial, a person is accused of breaking the law. The jury then has the task of determining whether the defendent is guilty or not guilty. The punishment in a criminal trial is usually imprisonment. Most of the time, all members of the jury must reach the same conclusion concerning fault or guilt. The conclusion is known as a verdict. Juries help to preserve the democratic nature of the Constitutional form of government by allowing direct citizen participation in the judicial process.
There are two types of judicial proceedings in the federal courts, criminal and civil cases.
In a criminal trial, an individual is accused of committing an offense - a crime - against society as a whole. Criminal juries consist of 12 jurors and alternates and a unanimous decision must be reached before a defendant is found "guilty." The burden of proof is on the government and the standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt."
In a civil trial, litigants are seeking remedies for private wrongs that don't, necessarily, have a broader social impact. Civil juries must consist of at least six jurors and the verdict must be unanimous unless the parties stipulate otherwise. The standard of proof is a "preponderance of the evidence," or "more true than not." Not all civil cases are heard by jurors; some are conducted before a judge.
Guilty pleas and plea negotiations reduce the need for juries in criminal cases, and settlement negotiations reduce the need for juries in civil cases. Negotiations and settlements are effective avenues the courts and the parties use to arrive at justice.