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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 7th Amendments does 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 – The 6th Amendment allows for a right to jury trial in all prosecutions. Also, Due Process (5th and 14th Amendments) 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?
- Most people are aware that the US Constitution guarantees a right to a jury trial in all criminal proceedings. It guarantees a right to a jury trial in civil trials with a value of $20 or more at stake. This is a federal right that has not been incorporated to apply under state law. Most would argue that the government should not be able to incarcerate a person unilateral without subjecting that person to trial by a jury of her peers. The opinion on whether a trial should be tied to an amount in controversy is subject to varying opinions. Some might argue that any situation where the government will enforce the outcome of a trial should have a right to a jury – regardless of the amount at stake. Others look at the practicalities of allowing such a system and argue that it would overwhelm the court system. Recall, most states limit the right to jury trial in municipal and magistrate courts.
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?
- Carla can request the trial be removed to a trial court that allows for jury trial. If there is no automatic right to removal to a higher court, Carla could bring a counterclaim against the contractor (such as fraud). This could have the effect of putting the claim or amount in controversy beyond the magistrate court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. Alternatively, she can proceed in the magistrate’s court with the magistrate as fact finder.
Fukurai, Hiroshi, The Representative Jury Requirement: Jury Representativeness and Cross-Sectional Participation from the Beginning to the End of the Jury Selection Process (March 23, 1999). International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, Spring 1999, 23: 55-90. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2584198
Gordon, Sara, All Together Now: Using Principles of Group Dynamics to Train Better Jurors (2015). Indiana Law Review, Vol. 48, No. 2, p. 415, 2015; UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2479572 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2479572
Fukurai, Hiroshi, Race, Social Class, Jury Participation: New Dimensions for Evaluating Discrimination in Jury Service and Jury Selection (March 23, 1996). Journal of Criminal Justice, 1996, 24:71-88. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2584208
Howe, Scott, Juror Neutrality or an Impartiality Array? A Structural Theory of the Impartial Jury Mandate. Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 70, No. 5, 1995. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1009325
Tiersma, Peter M., Asking Jurors to Do the Impossible (March 2, 2009). Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2009-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1352093 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1352093