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WHAT IS A CIVIL JURY TRIAL?

 

     We often hear about famous jury trials involving celebrities or other people in the news.  Sometimes the glitter of the people involved takes the spotlight and gives an impression that there is some magical function in the trial of a given case.

     In reality, a lawsuit (or action) is simply a method by which parties with a disagreement are able to have their interests determined by a neutral factfinder.  In the civil court system, the factfinder is generally a jury.

     United States jurisprudence has a long history of preferring that such decisions to be made by a jury.  The seventh amendment to the United States Constitution provides that in suits at common law, the right to trial by jury shall be preserved.

     Iowa has its own constitutional language in Article I §9 which provides that the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.  The state constitution does allow trial by jury of a fewer number than twelve jurors in inferior courts. 

     Currently, most civil cases are heard by eight jurors (as opposed to twelve in criminal cases).  A trial is simply a judicial examination of issues in an action, whether of law or fact.

            The judge generally decides the legal questions and the jury determines the facts based on the evidence.  These facts may include fault, causation, damages and other issues.  Long ago, our founders recognized the importance of citizens being at the center of making these important decisions.  The jury system is an American tradition

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