e-book A Jury of His Peers: A Play in Three Acts

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One of the primary concerns of the founding fathers was preventing the United States of America from developing an oppressive government.

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Much of the Bill of Rights was born out of that concern, including its prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures , the right against self-incrimination, and of course, the right to a trial by jury. The right to a jury trial plays a central role in the justice system so it's important to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and function of the jury in a criminal matter. It took the United States a while to recognize the right to a jury in all criminal cases, state or federal, felony or misdemeanor, but the present state of the law is that the Sixth Amendment of the U.

Constitution guarantees a jury trial to anyone facing a potential penalty of at least six months' imprisonment.

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Stated differently, defendants are not entitled to a jury trial for an offense punishable by less than six months of imprisonment. Also, in most states, the right to a trial by jury is not afforded to minors in juvenile delinquency proceedings. A jury alone doesn't guarantee a fair and impartial trial.

The Constitution guarantees a jury of one's "peers," which has been further interpreted by the courts to mean a fair cross-section of one's community. A jury is selected and impaneled before the start of a trial in a process called "voir dire," where attorneys and the judge may ask the jurors questions to ensure their ability to serve and remain impartial in a given case.

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Although attorneys are allowed to reject jurors, with or without cause, using peremptory challenges , they're not allowed to shape the jury in a way that may appear to be biased such as an all-Caucasian jury considering the case of an African American defendant. The jury then hears the evidence against the defendant, potential defenses , and weighs the evidence to determine whether it satisfies the charged criminal offenses beyond a reasonable doubt.

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It's then the jury's duty to gather together, discuss the evidence, and, once the necessary consensus is reached, render a verdict of guilty or not guilty in a given case. A primary strength of the jury trial is that it acts as a check to unfettered prosecutorial power.

Prosecutors have a tremendous amount of power when deciding whether to charge a defendant with a crime , as well as what charges to bring. However, they must make this charging decision understanding that a group of individuals, entirely unknown to them, will be deciding their case after they present the evidence. Prosecutors typically don't want to waste time and resources on unreasonable charges in front of a jury evaluating their case. Another strength of juries is that, if judges decided every case, it could raise a number of concerns about fairness in the judicial process.

For example, appointed judges might be beholden to politics and the people who appointed them.

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Additionally, elected judges could be swayed by public opinion in a given case. He is convinced that there is reasonable doubt and eventually succeeds in persuading the other jurors to acquit the defendant. This young man is nervous about expressing his opinion, especially in front of the elder members of the group.

In Act One, his allure makes others believe that he is the one who changed his mind during the secret vote. But, it wasn't him; he didn't dare go against the rest of the group yet. As a refugee from Europe, Juror 11 has witnessed great injustices.

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That is why he is intent on administering justice as a jury member. He sometimes feels self-conscious about his foreign accent, but overcomes his shyness and is willing to take on a more active part in the decision-making process. He is the timidest man of the group. Juror 2 is easily persuaded by the opinions of others and cannot explain the roots of his convictions. In the very beginning, he goes along with the general opinion, but soon Juror 8 wins his sympathy and he begins contributing more, despite his shyness.

He defies the adversity and pursues the facts, in search of a more complete and objective picture. Juror 6 is the one who calls for another ballot and is also one of the first six pro-acquittal ones. A slick, superior, and sometimes obnoxious salesman, Juror 7 admits during Act One that he would have done anything to miss jury duty and is trying to get out of it as fast as possible.

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He represents the many real-life individuals who loathe the idea of being on a jury. He is also quick to add his piece of mind to the conversation. He seems to want to condemn the defendant because of the youth's previous criminal record, stating that he would have beaten the boy as a child just like the defendant's father did. He is an arrogant and impatient advertising executive.


Juror 12 is anxious for the trial to be over so that he also can get back to his career and his social life. However, after Juror 5 tells the group about his knowledge of knife-fights, Juror 12 is the first one to waver in his conviction, eventually changing his mind to "not guilty. Non-confrontational, Juror 1 serves as the foreman of the jury.

Despite being described as "not overly bright," he helps calm down the tensions and moves the conversation onward with professional urgency. He sides with the "guilty" side until, just like Juror 12, he changes his mind after learning about the details of knife-fighting from Juror 5. The most abhorrent member of the group, Juror 10 is openly bitter and prejudiced. He is quick to stand up and physically approach Juror 8. During Act Three, he unleashes his bigotry to the others in a speech that disturbs the rest of the jury.

A logical, well-spoken stock-broker, Juror 4 urges his fellow jurors to avoid emotional arguments and engage in rational discussion. Juror 3 is immediately vocal about the supposed simplicity of the case and the obvious guilt of the defendant. He believes that the defendant is absolutely guilty until the very end of the play.