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What is a Civil Jury?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A civil jury is a group of citizens who, along with a judge, hear a matter of civil law. At the conclusion of the trial, the jurors decide whether or not the case has merit, and if they believe that the person who brought suit is in the right, they can award damages. Civil juries can contain between six and 12 people, depending on the case and the jurisdiction.

Civil juries are primarily seen in the United States and Canada. When a civil case is filed in court and a jury trial is scheduled, a group of prospective jurors is brought in for jury selection. The jurors are screened in a process known as voir dire to see if there are any reasons they might not be fit for service. Typically, people who know the plaintiff or defendant will be dismissed, as will people who know a lot about the case or people who have been involved in similar cases in the past.

Once a group of jurors is selected, they are sworn to jury service and said to be "impaneled." The facts of the case are presented in court and at the close of the case, the judge provides the civil jury with instructions. The instructions explain the standards that must be used when determining the verdict in the case and include guidelines for damages. The civil jury is sequestered in a private area where they elect a foreperson to facilitate their deliberations, and they discuss the case as presented to reach a verdict.

During the case, members of a civil jury are not allowed to discuss the case with anyone. Discussing the case with each other might be prejudicial, as it does not allow jurors to form their own opinions. Outsiders could provide information excluded from court for evidentiary reasons that might change the way a juror views the case. If members of the civil jury are approached by people who want to discuss the case, they are obliged to report it to the bailiff of the court, who will discuss the matter with the judge.

Trial by jury is a guaranteed right in some legal systems. People involved in a civil case can agree to have a case heard just by a judge, with no jury present. If one party objects, however, a full civil jury must be impaneled to hear the case. Trying a case before a jury of peers is intended to give people a fair chance in court.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By allenJo — On Jun 06, 2011

I was on jury duty once. Actually it was the first time I had ever served, and lucky me, it was a criminal trial instead of a civil trial. A lot of the same things applied however, like jury selection, being impaneled, etc. It was a murder case and we spent eight hours in deliberation before reaching a verdict.

Actually we almost had a hung jury. We trotted ourselves before the judge and told him we couldn’t reach a verdict, after 6 hours in deliberation. Apparently the judge was not impressed and did not want a hung jury; mainly I think we didn’t try hard enough. He gave us a verbal whipping and sent us back to the deliberation room to keep at it, and two hours later we emerged with a verdict.

By SkyWhisperer — On Jun 03, 2011

@miriam98 - I think the civil juries also go by the name “petit jury,” in contrast to grand juries which are used in the federal cases. I agree, I think the bar is lower for agreement among civil jurors than for juries in criminal cases.

By miriam98 — On Jun 01, 2011

Civil jury trials can often follow right after criminal jury trials, for the same alleged crime. Remember the O.J. Simpson case as one example. Even though he was declared innocent in the criminal jury trial, there was still a civil suit brought against him by the victim’s families.

The jury eventually awarded the families millions of dollars in the civil suit. I don’t think there has to be unanimity among the jurors in the civil suit, as would be the case in a criminal murder trial.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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