In a trial, the role of a jury serves as a crucial component of the legal system. The aforesaid is focused on a group of individuals who are randomly selected from the community to decide on the facts in issue during a trial.
This selection process is typically conducted by the court clerk or jury administrator, and potential jurors may be selected from voter registration lists or driver’s license records. Once selected, potential jurors may undergo a screening process to determine their suitability for serving on a jury.
During the trial, the jury’s primary role is to listen carefully to the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defence. The jury must assess the credibility and weight of the evidence and draw inferences from it to establish the facts of the case.
The jurors then use these established facts to reach a verdict, which is typically based on a unanimous or majority decision, depending on the jurisdiction.
It is important to note that while the jury serves as the fact-finder during the trial, the judge still plays a significant role in the proceedings.
The judge is responsible for determining which evidence is legally admissible and instructs the jury on the legal principles or rules that must be followed in weighing the facts presented.
On the same lines, in criminal cases, the judge is responsible for imposing the sentence if the defendant is found guilty.
Speaking in a general sense, a jury is an essential component of the legal system that serves to ensure that justice is served fairly and impartially.
The jury’s primary responsibility is to determine the facts of a case based on the evidence presented, while the judge’s role is to ensure that the legal process is followed and that the sentence, if applicable, is fair and just.
Definition of the Seventh Amendment
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
The Seventh Amendment is a legal provision in the United States Constitution that continues the tradition established by English common law of separating civil claims that must be tried before a jury from claims and issues that may be heard by a judge alone.
The aforementioned means that unless the parties involved in a civil case waive their right to a jury trial, civil claims that fall under the purview of the Seventh Amendment must be decided by a jury.
It’s important to note that the Seventh Amendment only applies to federal civil courts and does not extend to civil courts established by individual states.
This means that if a state court is hearing a dispute of state law exclusively, the Seventh Amendment may not apply. In such cases, the right to a jury trial may be determined by the state’s own laws and constitutional provisions.
The Seventh Amendment serves to safeguard the right to a trial by jury for individuals in federal civil cases, which ensures that the decision-making process is not left solely to the judge’s discretion. This allows for a more democratic and participatory process in the resolution of civil disputes.
1. The Role of the Jury
The Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial in civil cases at law in federal court.
This provision can be traced back to English common law, which had a longstanding tradition of using juries in legal proceedings. Historians have suggested that the practice of using juries in legal proceedings dates back to ancient Greece.
Sir William Blackstone, an influential English jurist and author of a renowned treatise on common law, praised the right to a jury trial as essential to the impartial administration of justice.
He believed that if the administration of justice was entirely entrusted to a select group of magistrates, they would be prone to involuntary bias towards those of their own rank and dignity.
The right to a jury trial was brought to the American colonies by the English, and it played a significant role in the colonial era. The colonists fiercely resisted the King of England’s attempts to curtail this right, and the Declaration of Independence even identified the denial of “the benefits of trial by jury” as one of the grievances that led to the American Revolution.
Despite the prominence of this right in colonial America, it was not initially included in the original draft of the Constitution. The addition of the Seventh Amendment was a significant accomplishment for advocates of the right to a jury trial, as it ensured that this right would be protected in federal civil cases.
During the Philadelphia Convention, where the Constitution was drafted, the issue of including a right to a jury trial in civil cases was raised twice.
On September 12, 1787, Hugh Williamson of North Carolina pointed out that no provision had been made for civil juries and suggested the necessity of including one.
Some delegates supported the idea, but they believed that the varying practices of state courts in civil trials made it impossible to draft a suitable provision.
A motion was brought on September 15, 1787, to insert a clause in Article III, Section 2, guaranteeing the preservation of “a trial by jury as usual in civil cases,” but it was defeated on the basis of this concern.
After the Convention, opponents of the Constitution’s ratification cited the absence of a right to a jury trial in civil cases as a major issue.
They claimed that the lack of a provision requiring civil jury trials in a Constitution that mandated jury trials in criminal cases implied that the use of a jury was abolished in civil cases.
Alexander Hamilton refuted this assertion in the Federalist Papers, stating that the Constitution’s silence on civil jury trials meant only that “the institution would remain precisely in the same situation in which it is placed by the State constitutions.”
Despite this controversy, the Constitution was eventually ratified, and the Seventh Amendment was added in 1791 to guarantee a right to a civil jury trial in federal court.
After the Constitution was ratified, some states expressed concern that it did not include a provision for a civil jury trial. Therefore, they recommended that Congress include such a right as an amendment to the Constitution.
James Madison, one of the drafters of the Constitution, proposed a list of amendments to Congress that included a right to a jury trial in civil cases. The amendment was eventually adopted as the Seventh Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
It is unclear whether there was much debate about the meaning or wording of the Seventh Amendment during its passage. However, it is known that the amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial in civil cases in federal court, tracing its roots to English common law and Colonial America’s legal traditions.
The right was seen as a necessary safeguard against the potential bias of judges or a select group of individuals in deciding cases.
1.2. The Role of a Jury in the Identification of Civil Cases
The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, then according to the rules of the common law.”
The phrase “Suits at common law” refers to civil cases that were traditionally heard in courts of law, as opposed to courts of equity or admiralty. The distinction between courts of law and equity is an important one in the Anglo-American legal tradition.
In general, courts of law were concerned with the enforcement of legal rights, while courts of equity were concerned with granting equitable remedies, such as injunctions or specific performance.
The Supreme Court has long held that the right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment applies only to actions that would have been heard in a court of law at the time of the Amendment’s enactment. In other words, the right to a jury trial does not extend to cases that would have been heard in a court of equity or admiralty.
However, the Court has also held that the right to a jury trial may extend to cases that did not exist at common law, so long as the cause of action is similar to a traditional common law cause of action.
In such cases, the Court has looked to the historical practices of the common law to determine whether a right to a jury trial exists.
Taking, as an illustration, the fact that, in the case involving a landlord seeking to recover possession of property from a tenant based on a statute, the Court found that even though the statute did not have a close equivalent in English common law, it did have several analogues in the common law, all of which involved a right to trial by jury.
As a result, the Court held that the landlord was entitled to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment.
In another similar case, the Court recognized that Congress may create new causes of action that were unknown at common law and still trigger the Seventh Amendment’s right to a jury trial if they create legal rights and remedies that are enforceable in an action for damages in the ordinary courts of law.
The Court distinguished between claims that sought to enforce legal rights and those that sought equitable remedies. If a plaintiff sought equitable relief, such as an injunction, the right to a jury trial would not attach.
In such aforementioned cases, the court will not provide a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment because the proceedings are not actions that were traditionally tried in courts of law at the time the Amendment was adopted.
The court may also consider whether the issues raised are particularly legal or equitable in nature as well as the fact whether existing precedents prevail and whether the sound administration of justice favour resolution by judges or juries.
Where the cases surround the questions involving admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, the Seventh Amendment does not apply because these cases were traditionally tried without a jury. Similarly, in cases involving statutory proceedings that did not exist at common law, such as administrative enforcement actions, the Seventh Amendment may not apply.
Taking as an illustration, in the case of Atlas Roofing Co. v. Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the Occupational Safety and Health Act did not violate the Seventh Amendment by allowing penalties to be assessed against employers without a jury trial.
The court found that the enforcement action was not an action at common law and did not involve the sort of legal rights and remedies that were typically enforced by courts of law. The court also noted that the sound administration of justice favoured resolution by administrative agencies rather than by juries.
Cases, where the government is suing in its sovereign capacity to enforce public rights created by statutes within the power of Congress to enact, are where the Seventh Amendment does not necessarily require a jury trial.
In such cases, Congress may assign the factfinding function and initial adjudication to an administrative forum, as a jury would be incompatible with such a forum.
However, if Congress assigns such cases to Article III courts, a jury trial may be required. Taking as an illustration, in Tull v. United States, the Supreme Court held that the Seventh Amendment requires a jury to determine whether an entity is liable for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which authorizes the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to initiate a civil action in a federal district court to enforce the Act.
The Court found that the penal nature of the Clean Water Act’s civil penalty remedy distinguished it from restitution-based remedies available in equity courts. Consequently, it is a type of remedy that only courts of law could impose. However, the Court did note that a jury trial is not required to assess the amount of the penalty.
The explanation of the aforesaid lies on the lines that the Court viewed assessment of the amount of penalty as involving neither the “substance” nor a “fundamental element” of a common-law right to trial by jury, it held permissible the Act’s assignment of that task to the trial judge.
The Granfinanciera Case
In the aforementioned case, the Supreme Court focused on the distinction between “public rights” and “private rights” to determine the scope of congressional power to assign causes of action to tribunals that do not offer jury trials that marks it an essential aspect to comprehend the role of a jury.
The Court held that Congress does not have the power to strip parties of their constitutional right to a trial by jury in matters of private rights. In other words, if the claim involves the liability of one individual to another, then it is a private right, and the parties are entitled to a jury trial.
The Court stated that the Seventh Amendment test for the right to a jury trial is the same as the Article III test for whether Congress can assign the adjudication of a claim to a non-Article III tribunal. The Article III test is whether the matter being adjudicated is a “public right” or a “private right.”
Public rights are those that involve the relationship between the government and persons subject to its authority, while private rights are those that relate to the liability of one individual to another.
The Court found that a bankruptcy trustee’s right to recover for a fraudulent conveyance is more accurately characterized as a private rather than a public right, at least when the defendant had not submitted a claim against the bankruptcy estate. Therefore, the parties were entitled to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment.
Serving as a landmark judgement, the case of Granfinanciera clarified that the Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial in matters of private right, even when Congress assigns the adjudication of the claim to a non-Article III tribunal.
Overall, the Seventh Amendment’s right to a jury trial in civil cases at law has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as applying only to claims and issues that are “legal” in nature and would have been heard by a court of law in England at the time of the Amendment’s drafting.
Claims and issues that are “equitable” in nature, such as claims for injunctive relief or specific performance, do not give rise to a right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment.
2. The Composition and Function of the Jury
The historical background of the Seventh Amendment and its adoption as part of the Bill of Rights reflects a strong commitment to preserving the right of trial by jury in civil cases.
To understand the role of a jury more vividly, it deems essential to shine a light on the composition and the modus operandi of the same.
This right had been an integral part of English common law for centuries, and the colonists who settled in America brought this tradition with them. The Seventh Amendment was added to the Constitution to ensure that this right would continue to be protected in the new nation.
According to the traditional view of the Supreme Court, the Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to trial by jury as it existed under the English common law when the Amendment was adopted.
This included the right to a trial by a jury of twelve men, under the guidance of a judge who was empowered to instruct them on the law and advise them on the facts.
The judge could set aside the jury’s verdict if he believed it was against the law or the evidence. Additionally, unanimous decisions by the jury were required.
However, there have been some instances in which the Court has allowed for variations in the number of jurors or other aspects of the traditional jury trial.
In the case of Colgrove v. Battin, the Court held that the Seventh Amendment did not require a civil jury to consist of twelve members, as was the common law practice at the time of the Amendment’s adoption.
The case arose out of a redistricting dispute in Montana, and the district court had impanelled civil juries of only six members. The plaintiffs argued that this violated their Seventh Amendment right to a trial by jury, but the Court disagreed.
The Court reasoned that the Amendment’s reference to the “common law” did not necessarily mean that all aspects of the common law right to trial by jury had to be preserved.
Instead, the Court suggested that the Amendment was primarily concerned with preserving the right to a trial by jury in civil cases as it existed at common law.
And although the common law practice was to impanel juries of twelve, the Court found that this was not a fundamental aspect of the right to trial by jury.
The Court also noted that Congress had the power to regulate the size of juries in federal courts and that federal statutes had long allowed for civil juries of less than twelve members.
In light of these factors, the Court concluded that the district court’s use of six-member juries did not violate the Seventh Amendment.
To further elaborate, the Seventh Amendment preserves the historical role of the jury as a fact-finding body in civil cases, while allowing for the development of new procedural rules and the introduction of new methods of determining factual issues.
The Supreme Court has held that the amendment does not require the retention of old forms of procedure, but rather seeks to maintain the traditional common law distinction between the court’s province and the jury’s province in resolving legal disputes.
In determining whether a particular issue must be tried before a jury, the Court will generally look to whether that issue was traditionally resolved by a jury in England in 1791, at the time the Seventh Amendment was adopted.
However, the Court has also recognized that new rights and remedies may be created that did not exist at common law, and in these cases, the right to a jury trial will be determined by analogy to its historical counterpart, either at law or in equity.
Speaking in conclusion, the Seventh Amendment seeks to balance the preservation of traditional common law procedures and the role of the jury as a fact-finding body with the need to adapt to changing legal developments and new forms of legal disputes.
3. The Types of Juries
3.1 The Grand Juries
Diving deeper into understanding the role of a jury, it is essential to take into account the kinds of the same. The first refers to a grand jury.
A grand jury is a group of citizens who are selected from the community to determine whether there is enough evidence to indict someone for a crime. The grand jury is typically composed of more jurors than a trial jury, traditionally 23, hence the term “grand.”
The grand jury operates in secret, and its proceedings are not open to the public. The prosecutor presents evidence to the grand jury, including witness testimony and other forms of evidence, and the grand jury decides whether there is probable cause to indict the accused.
Grand juries are an important component of the criminal justice system in the United States. They are used in both the federal system and most states.
However, in some states, prosecutors may choose to bring charges without going through a grand jury. In other states, the use of grand juries for felony charges is mandatory.
Besides determining whether to issue an indictment, grand juries may also have additional responsibilities. In many states, grand juries are empowered to investigate public corruption and other crimes. They may also be responsible for monitoring conditions in local jails and prisons.
Grand juries play an essential role in ensuring that the accused receives a fair trial and that justice is served. They provide a crucial layer of oversight over the criminal justice system and help to protect the rights of citizens.
3.2 The Trial Juries
Trial juries, also known as petit juries, are typically composed of 12 members in criminal cases in both federal and state courts.
The verdict of the jury must be unanimous in federal criminal proceedings, meaning that all 12 jurors must agree on whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
However, in some state criminal proceedings, less than unanimous verdicts have been held constitutionally permissible.
Taking as an illustration, in Oregon, a 10-2 verdict is sufficient for a conviction in most criminal cases, while in Louisiana, a 10-2 verdict is sufficient only in cases involving non-unanimous juries that were impanelled prior to a recent change in the law.
The use of less-than-unanimous verdicts has been a subject of debate and controversy in the United States. Critics argue that requiring unanimity is essential to protect the rights of the accused and to ensure that the verdict reflects the conscience of the jury as a whole.
Supporters of non-unanimous verdicts argue that they are more efficient and can reduce the risk of hung juries, where the jury is unable to reach a verdict.
It’s worth noting that there are some exceptions to the unanimity requirement in federal criminal cases. Taking as an illustration, in cases where the defendant is charged with a lesser included offence, a verdict of 10 out of 12 jurors may be sufficient.
Additionally, in cases where a defendant waives the right to a jury trial and instead opts for a bench trial (where the judge makes the decision), the unanimity requirement does not apply.
4. Responsibilities of a Jury
Diving deeper into understanding the role of a jury, in most legal systems, jurors are responsible for determining the facts of a case based on the evidence presented to them.
- They are expected to be impartial and make their decision solely on the evidence presented, without being influenced by their personal feelings or biases.
- In a criminal case, the jury’s responsibility is to determine whether the accused is guilty or not guilty of the charges against them.
- In a civil case, the jury’s responsibility is to determine whether the defendant is liable or not liable for the harm alleged by the plaintiff, and if so, to determine the number of damages to be awarded.
- Jurors are also expected to follow the instructions given to them by the judge, both in terms of the law that applies to the case and the procedures they should follow.
- They are not allowed to conduct their own research or investigations, and they are not allowed to discuss the case with anyone outside the jury.
- The jurors are expected to deliberate with their fellow jurors in good faith to reach a verdict. This involves listening to and considering each other’s views, and working together to resolve any disagreements or conflicts that may arise during the deliberation process.
- Additionally, in common law systems, juries are typically used in criminal trials, where the defendant faces the possibility of imprisonment or other severe penalties. However, in civil cases, the decision to use a jury varies depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the case.
In the United States, civil cases involving issues such as personal injury, defamation, or breach of contract may be decided by a jury, while other civil cases, such as those involving property disputes, are typically decided by a judge.
To ensure an impartial and unbiased jury, both the prosecution and the defence have the right to question and challenge potential jurors during a process known as voir dire.
During voir dire, the attorneys may ask potential jurors questions to determine if they have any biases or conflicts of interest that could affect their ability to be impartial in the case.
Once selected, jurors are responsible for listening to all of the evidence presented in court, following the judge’s instructions on the law, and deliberating with other jurors to reach a verdict.
It is important for jurors to remain unbiased throughout the trial and not be influenced by outside information or opinions.
Jurors may not discuss the case with anyone outside of the jury during the trial and must keep an open mind until all evidence has been presented and deliberation is complete.
5. The Legal Boundaries for the Jury
With powers, the role of a jury has its restrictions which they must adhere to whilst making any kind of decision. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) and corresponding state rules set out the minimum and maximum number of jurors for civil trials.
Under FRCP Rule 48, federal civil trial juries must have at least 6 and no more than 12 members. Each member of the jury is required to participate in reaching a verdict unless the judge excuses a juror due to illness, hardship, or other legitimate reasons.
In addition to determining the size of the jury, judges also provide specific instructions to the jury about their duties and responsibilities.
The judge may give instructions to the jury before the trial begins, at the close of evidence, or both. These instructions provide guidance on how to evaluate the evidence, apply the law, and reach a verdict.
Before the trial begins, the judge may provide instructions to the jury about trial-related matters, such as the order of proceedings, how to submit evidence, and how to ask questions. The judge may also explain legal terms or concepts that may arise during the trial.
At the close of evidence, the judge will provide more detailed instructions to the jury on their specific duties and considerations. This includes instructions on how to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, how to weigh the evidence presented, and how to apply the law to the facts of the case.
The judge may also provide instructions on the burden of proof, which is the level of evidence required to reach a verdict.
Emphasizing the fact that the judge’s instructions are an important component of the trial process, as they help to ensure that the jury understands their role and responsibilities and can make an informed decision based on the evidence presented.
In addition to providing general guidance to the jury, judges also submit specific questions to the jury in writing. These questions are designed to help the jury evaluate the evidence and reach a verdict.
The questions are often broken down into individual yes/no queries, which require the jury to make a specific finding on each issue of fact.
Elaborating on the idea of FRCP 48 further, federal court judges have the discretion to require juries to return a “special verdict” on each issue of fact, without offering a “general verdict” on the overall outcome of the case.
A special verdict requires the jury to make specific findings on each element of the claim or defence.
Taking as an illustration, if the case involves a breach of contract, the jury might be asked to make findings on whether a contract existed, whether the defendant breached the contract, and whether the plaintiff suffered damages as a result.
If the jury’s answers to these questions are inconsistent with one another, the judge must either send the jury back to reconsider its answers and verdict or order a new trial.
This is because inconsistent answers can suggest that the jury did not fully understand the instructions or evidence presented, or that the verdict was based on an improper consideration.
In a nutshell, if it must be summarized, the use of written questions and special verdicts can help to ensure that the jury fully considers each issue of fact and reaches a well-reasoned verdict based on the evidence presented.
6. Best Practices for Experts Testifying in Jury Trials
Juries are composed of individuals from all walks of life, and they may not have expertise in the technical aspects of a case. Therefore, it is essential for lawyers, judges, and expert witnesses to provide clear, concise explanations of technical facts that apply to the case.
Rather than overwhelming the jury with a large amount of technical information, it is important to focus on the specific principles that apply to the case and explain how they are relevant.
This can be accomplished through the use of analogies or other simple explanations that make the technical information more accessible to the jurors.
Additionally, it is important to provide context for the technical information and explain how it fits into the larger picture of the case. By doing so, jurors will be better equipped to understand the evidence presented and make an informed decision.
Speaking in general, providing clear, concise explanations of technical facts is crucial for ensuring that the jury fully understands the evidence presented and is able to make a well-informed decision.
In a case where the plaintiff alleges a curling iron overheated due to defective wiring, causing second-degree burns, the jurors don’t need to understand all the technical details of electrical current or skin anatomy.
Instead, they need to answer specific questions that are relevant to the case, such as “What went wrong in the wiring to cause this much heat?” and “Was that enough heat to cause second-degree burns?”
It is essential for lawyers and expert witnesses to understand which issues the jury is deciding on and to focus their explanations accordingly. For example, discussing causation when the jury is only present to evaluate damages can confuse the jury and may even lead to a mistrial.
Therefore, it’s important to know which facts the jury is allowed to accept as given and to address the specific questions that the jury needs to answer.
By understanding the specific issues that the jury is deciding on and focusing on the relevant facts and questions, lawyers and expert witnesses can ensure that the jury has a clear understanding of the evidence presented and can make an informed decision.
Distinguishing between questions of fact and questions of law is crucial for expert witnesses and lawyers when presenting a case to a jury. Questions of fact are typically related to the specific events that occurred in the case and are decided by the jury based on the evidence presented.
For example, in the case of a curling iron overheating, a question of fact might be “Did the wiring cause the curling iron to overheat?”
On the other hand, questions of law are related to the legal principles that apply to the case and are decided by the judge.
For example, “Was the curling iron manufacturer negligent in wiring the curling iron this way?” is a question of law that is decided by the judge.
Expert witnesses are typically called upon to provide their professional opinion on questions of fact. Therefore, expert witnesses should focus on presenting clear and concise explanations of the technical aspects of the case that relate to the specific questions of fact.
By sticking to questions of fact, expert witnesses can provide the most valuable assistance to jurors and help them make informed decisions based on the evidence presented.
In a nutshell, expert witnesses can be powerful allies to juries in understanding the case facts more clearly, leading to more accurate and trustworthy outcomes.
It is essential for expert witnesses and lawyers to apply best practices for testifying before a jury to help jurors understand the questions they must answer and make informed decisions based on the evidence presented.
To comprehend the working of a jury, it deems essential to take into account, the kinds of juries, the functions and responsibilities as well as the composition of the same, not to forget the aspect of restrictions and the ways experts can perform in jury trials.
Apart from the fact that the seventh amendment endorses a jury trial, it is a well-utilized concept by the judges in case of heinous crimes or when they seek further perspectives.
A role of a jury is deemed crucial in civil cases especially