Know the Law: Role of judge and jury

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What are a judge’s obligations during a legal proceeding? What exactly is the role of a jury in a trial?

A judge basically acts as a referee in a court case. The judge is responsible for setting the rules about how the trial will proceed and making sure those who are participating in the trial (lawyers, witnesses, etc.) follow the rules.

Generally, judges do not decide factual issues because, in the United States, people have a constitutional right to a jury trial. People can indeed choose to have issues decided by a judge, but most people elect to have these kinds of questions decided by a jury of their peers instead.

When a case goes to trial, there are certain evidence rules that must be followed. These rules govern witness testimony and any other evidence that is presented during the trial, like photographs and documents. The judge is the person who ensures these evidence rules are followed, so the evidence is properly presented to the jury.

As for the jury, the role of individual jurors is a fundamental and crucial one. The United States is unique in its jury system because we give lay people the power to decide issues of fact presented during a trial. In other words, “the people decide.”

The job of a jury is to determine the true facts in the case, apply the law to the facts and reach a decision. A jury decides all disputed questions of fact, whether it’s a criminal case or a civil case for money damages.

A jury reaches a verdict by applying the law (as explained by the judge at the end of the trial) to the facts that it determines to be true. A jury in a criminal case consists of 12 people and the decision must be unanimous. A jury in a civil case can be anywhere from 6-12 jurors, and the decision must be agreed upon by a majority.

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