Lesson Plan: Jury Trials in Criminal Cases

The History of Jury Trials in the United States

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) discussed the history behind jury trials and an independent judiciary.


The sixth amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury in all criminal prosecutions. This lesson explores the origins of the right to trial by jury, how juries function and current issues surrounding them. Students will be able to describe the benefits and drawbacks of jury trials and determine if there should be additional legislation securing this right to a trial by jury in criminal prosecutions.


  • WARM-UP:

    Begin class by having the students answer the following questions:

    • What is a jury and what do they do?

    Review the students' answers and address any misconceptions. Introduce the idea of juries and jury trials by showing the following video clips. Have the student answer the questions as they view the videos. Students can use the handout to guide them.

    HANDOUT: Jury Trials in Criminal Cases (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP: The History of Jury Trials in the United States (3:26)

    • Where did the idea of jury trials come from?
    • Why were jury trials so important to the founders of the United States?
    • According to Senator Whitehouse, what are advantage to using juries?
    • How do jury trials limit the power of the government and protect individual rights?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Justice Breyer on Impartial Juries (1:07)

    • Who makes up a jury?
    • Describe the job of a jury.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Jury Selection (1:39)

    • What is meant by a "fair and impartial jury?"
    • What is the voir dire process? How does this ensure a fair and impartial jury?

    Review the introductory videos and discuss the history of jury trials and how they work. Address any misconceptions and introduce the following two video clips. Have the student answer the questions associated with each question.

  • VIDEO CLIP: Costs of Jury Trials (3:37)

    • Why does Mr. Rein say that the system would break down if we relied only on jury trials?
    • What are common complaints from people asked to serve on a jury?
    • How do jury trials impose costs on the court system?
    • Explain how attorneys try to influence the jury selection process.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Plea Deals and the Decrease in Jury Trials (3:09)

    • Why are fewer people accused of crimes exercising their right to a jury trial?
    • Describe the plea bargain process.
    • How is the power in favor of the prosecutor in criminal cases? What problems does this cause?
    • According to Mr. Kramer, how does this criminal process disproportionately affect certain groups?

    Using the information from the previous video clips, have the students respond to the following prompt. This can either be a written response or a class discussion. Students should be support their stance with examples and evidence from the video clips.

    • Should federal and state governments pass legislation to encourage more criminal jury trials?

    After discussing the students' thought on the previous prompt, have the students answer the following question as an exit Slip:

    • How do jury trials protect the rights of individuals?

    Interview a Juror- Find someone who has been selected for jury duty. Interview them and ask questions to learn about their experiences as a juror. Possible questions could include: What was the process like? Were they selected for a trial? How long was the process? What did they learn from this experience?

    Be a Jury Expert- Find and research a court case that is in the news. Choose either the prosecution or defense and be a jury expert for that side. Write a summary of characteristics of potential jurors who your side would like on the jury and a list of characteristics of potential juror who your side would not like on the jury. Develop a series of questions that you might ask to find this information out.


    • As someone who is accused of a crime, what are the benefits and drawbacks of having a jury trial?
    • Is the plea bargain process beneficial for individuals accused of crimes? Explain your answer.
    • Does the jury selection process get an accurate representation of the population?
    • What does a jury of your peers mean? Does the current process of jury selection meet this standard?

Additional Resources


  • Beyond A Reasonable Doubt
  • Bias
  • Draconian
  • Independent Judiciary
  • Individual Rights
  • Judge
  • Juror
  • Jury Selection
  • Mandatory Minimum Sentences
  • Peers
  • Petit Jury
  • Plea Bargain
  • Prejudice
  • Prosecutor
  • Recompense
  • Tampering
  • Trial
  • Voir Dire


Civil Rights & Civil LibertiesCriminal Law & JusticeJudicial Branch


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