18. What is the role of “Jurors” in the judicial system?
The 6th and 7th Amendments to the Constitution guarantee the right to trial by jury in criminal and civil cases, with certain exceptions. The right to trial by a jury varies between criminal and civil cases.
• Civil Cases – The 6th and 7th Amendments do not guarantee a right to a jury trial in every trial. In civil cases, the right to a jury trial is linked to a dollar amount in controversy between the parties. States may have courts of special jurisdiction that have an amount-in controversy limit and do not allow for a jury trial. If the parties want a jury trial, however, either party has the option of filing the case in a superior court of general jurisdiction, where a jury trial is an option. In this way, each party’s access to a jury trial is not limited. Parties may also enter into contracts that forgo the right to a jury trial in the event of dispute.
• Criminal Cases – Due process requires that criminal cases in which a party faces potential imprisonment afford her a jury trial. Very minor criminal infractions that involve a fine and no potential for incarceration often do not allow for a jury trial. For example, a citation for speeding may not entitle a party to a jury trial.
In criminal cases the defendant may elect to forgo a jury trial and have the judge act as fact finder. In civil cases, if the right to jury trial exists, both parties must consent to forgo the right to a jury trial.
• Discussion: Do you believe that every civil and criminal case should be entitled to a jury trial? Is there a good justification for tying the right to a jury trial to an amount in controversy or incarceration?
• Practice Question: Carla has a dispute with her electrician, Dan, over her bill for electrical work. Carla claims that Dan quoted a price of $300 for the work and then increased the price to $750 after the work was completed. She does not want to pay the higher amount. Dan ultimately sues Carla in the local magistrate’s court, which does not allow for jury trials. What are Carla’s options in this situation?