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A Comparative Analysis of Jury Systems

Lee F. Weber
South Sioux City Community High School
South Sioux City, Nebraska

When the word "jury" is used, students logically picture a body of 12 men and women hearing
evidence and rendering a verdict in an American courtroom. While this image is more often true
than not in the English-speaking nations of the world, it is not the only jury system used in
democratic societies. This activity is designed to familiarize students with the jury systems in other
Western European countries, and to allow them to make comparisons of such systems with the
U.S. jury system.

This lesson plan is designed to allow students to make critical comparisons between the jury
system in use in the United States and the jury systems of France and Germany.

At the conclusion of this lesson students should be able to critically evaluate the American jury
system, especially as it compares to the jury systems of France and Germany.

This lesson plan is suitable for 11th and 12th grade students.

This lesson plan is self-contained and no additional resources are required.

Prior to the use of this lesson students should be introduced to the basics of the American jury
system. They should be aware that a jury usually consists of 12 persons (in a few states 6), chosen
randomly from the community. They should also be aware that normally juries must determine a
verdict by a unanimous vote (in a few states 10-2, or 9-3), and that the jury should reflect a "cross
section" of the community--what we often call a "jury of one's peers."

A teacher should now explain that there are other methods used, and not just in societies with
harsh dictatorial policies. In France, for instance, juries consist of 9 lay persons and 3 professional
judges. Each person has one vote and a verdict requires only 8 votes, with an undecided vote
counting in favor of acquittal in a criminal case.

In Germany two different systems are used. In serious cases 5 people sit on a jury--two lay and 3
professional judges. In less serious cases, one professional judge joins two lay persons. In each
instance only a majority vote is required for a verdict! In addition, German jurors serve year-long
terms and hear all the cases within a community for the duration of the year. Unquestionably when


students hear about these variations, they will be prompted to ask, "Which is the best system?" To
compare the pros and cons of each, students can initially simply discuss the merits of each plan.
After an initial class discussion, students should be asked to complete the following chart, either
individually, or as a group project.

This lesson plan has worked well in a Criminal Justice Class composed of 11th and 12th grade
students. It is easily adaptable to lower level students and other classes as well.

The National Constitution Center's Warren E. Burger Repository of Lesson Plans

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