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Jury trials may occur in both adversarial and civil law countries including Britain, United States, Brazil, Canada, Australia, France and Germany.
Academics have concluded that the jury system benefits society because it is the only means by which the government puts power directly into citizens' hands. In many common law countries, the jury system is seen as a way to limit unbridled government power. This is particularly important in countries like the United States which grant prosecutors wide-ranging powers. For other countries, the jury trial may provide their only opportunity to learn about governance outside of formal schooling.
On the other side, critics of the jury system contend that juries cannot possibly understand sophisticated legal concepts and that they are easily swayed by prejudice or bias. In common law systems this belief has lead to the creation of complex rules of evidence intended to keep certain types of prejudicial evidence from the jury.
Jury nullification occurs when a jury chooses to acquit an individual even though evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the crime.
Even in jurisdictions where jury's are restricted to fact-finding, the phenomenon of jury nullification is both documented and accepted as generally constitutional.
Examples of jury nullification throughout history:
In pre-Civil War United States, juries sometimes refused to convict defendants for violations of the Fugitive Slave Act. During prohibition, juries sometimes refused to convict defendants for violating the 19th Amendment. Jury nullification may also have occurred throughout the history of the United States when all-white juries failed to convict white individuals being tried for the murder of African-Americans.
- Indiana Constitution,Section 19 ("In all criminal cases whatever, the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the facts.")