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Jury Votes Required for Finding Guilt or Liability

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How many jurors and juror votes are required to find someone guilty in a criminal case or liable in a civil case?

The number of jurors and the number of juror votes required for a finding of guilt or civil liability vary depending upon the type of case (criminal or civil) and the court (state or federal).

  • Number of Jurors – Not all court cases involve a jury trial. When a jury trial is warranted, the number of jurors required is known as “petit jury”. Rule 48 of FRCP states that, a “Court shall seat a jury of not fewer than six and not more than twelve members.” Most cases do not have 12 jurors.
    • Note: Most states require that all murder cases have 12 jurors.
  • Unanimous Vote – In criminal cases, most courts (state and federal) require unanimous vote by the jury to find the defendant guilty. Currently, courts in only two states allow for conviction of a defendant via non-unanimous voting, and those are generally reserved for minor charges.
    • Note: Federal military courts-martial, a special form of Article I federal court that enforces criminal actions, allows for a non-unanimous finding of guilty in certain cases.
  • Majority Vote – In civil cases, many states have eliminated the unanimity requirement to find a defendant liable. This means that many states allow for a finding of civil liability with a simple majority vote by jurors. These statutes may require a minimum number of jurors on the jury.
  • Jury Findings – In general, juries do not need to give reasons for their votes in a civil or criminal case. The jury will provide a simple verdict (guilty/not guilty or liable/not liable) and does not have to explain its reasoning in the matter. Some special verdicts, however, require jurors to answer a series of questions to ascertain their understanding of the law and procedure. Further, the jury may have to indicate whether they find aggravating circumstances, which may be a legal requirement for a certain finding. Even in these cases, the juror does not have to explain why they find facts to be convincing or no.

As previously stated, the specific rules applicable to jurors, juror votes, and findings will vary slightly depending upon the case and the court system.

Discussion: How do you feel about the requirement in civil cases that a majority of jurors find liability? Are there good arguments for or against requiring unanimous jury findings in civil trials? What do you think about only requiring six jurors when determining guilt or innocence in a criminal trial (other than capital trials)? Should jurors be required to give their reasoning behind finding guilt or innocence?

Discussion Input
  • Many would argue that allowing for a finding of liability in civil trial by a simple majority of jurors is unfair. They would argue that the standard should be unanimous, as in criminal trials. A civil judgment can be detrimental to a person’s existence. There is a valid argument that such a decision should not be predicated on a majority, rather than unanimous, jury finding.

Practice Question: Julie is a law clerk for a mid-sized legal firm. She is assigned to assist firm attorneys on a civil litigation matter in which her firm is defending its client in a contract dispute for $2 million. The client is a large corporation with a corporate counsel who wants to be apprised of every step of the litigation. Her first assignment is to work on the voir dire questions used to identify biases in potential juror candidates. As part of the assignment, she is putting together a one-page explanation of the jury selection process for the client. She begins by laying out the total number of jurors required, votes required to establish liability, and any additional requirements of the jury. Help Julie write this first portion of the strategic plan.

Proposed Answer
  • Since this is a civil case, the number of jurors required will be between 6-12. For the purpose of this case, Julie should consider having 7 jurors. Having few jurors to convince is could be a good tactic; but having an odd number is best. She should then try to identify as much information about the jurors’ backgrounds, political preferences, opinions about companies like her client, etc. Particularly, she will want to zero in on any identifiable juror biases. This will help in determining which jurors to strike during the voir dire process. Finally, she should come up with a plan for ranking jurors based upon their characteristics. This will allow her to effectively employ her peremptory challenges.

Academic Research

Fukurai, Hiroshi, The Representative Jury Requirement: Jury Representativeness and Cross-Sectional Participation from the Beginning to the End of the Jury Selection Process (March 23, 1999). International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, Spring 1999, 23: 55-90. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2584198

Gordon, Sara, All Together Now: Using Principles of Group Dynamics to Train Better Jurors (2015). Indiana Law Review, Vol. 48, No. 2, p. 415, 2015; UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2479572 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2479572

Fukurai, Hiroshi, Race, Social Class, Jury Participation: New Dimensions for Evaluating Discrimination in Jury Service and Jury Selection (March 23, 1996). Journal of Criminal Justice, 1996, 24:71-88. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2584208

Howe, Scott, Juror Neutrality or an Impartiality Array? A Structural Theory of the Impartial Jury Mandate. Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 70, No. 5, 1995. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1009325

Tiersma, Peter M., Asking Jurors to Do the Impossible (March 2, 2009). Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2009-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1352093 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1352093

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