Although most people understand the general concept of a jury—a group of people who hears the facts of a case and then renders a verdict in that case—there are some details of jury trials that are not so commonly known.
In the U.S. court system, there are two different types of trials: jury trials and bench trials. A jury trial, not surprisingly, is decided by a jury, which may consist of six to 12 people, depending on the case. A bench trial, on the other hand, is decided by a judge. Bench trials tend to move more quickly than jury trials, as there are not as many people involved and only one person must make a decision.
Although a jury trial is decided by a jury, a judge still presides over the trial. In fact, there are certain decisions even in a jury trial that the jury will not decide—specifically, questions of law are determined by the presiding judge, whereas questions of fact are left up to the jury during a jury trial.
Questions of fact deal with the actual happenings of the case; for instance, whether or not a defendant committed the crime he or she has been charged with is a decision the jury makes, based on the facts of the case as presented by both the prosecution and the defense.
Questions of law, however, deal with how the law applies in a particular case. These questions are left to the judge’s discretion.