Guarantees in criminal and civil cases

A jury trial, or trial by jury, is a lawful proceeding in which a jury makes a decision or findings of fact. It is distinguished from a bench trial in which a judge or panel of judges makes all decisions. Jury trials are used in a significant share of serious criminal cases in almost all common law legal systems (Singapore, for example, is an exception), and juries or lay judges have been incorporated into the legal systems of many civil law countries for criminal cases. Only the United States makes routine use of jury trials in a wide variety of non-criminal cases.


Amendment VII to the U.S. Constitution
"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 reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
Amendment VI to the U.S. Constitution
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."


An Arrow against all Tyrants, by Richard Overton, 12 Oct 1646
Letter addressed to "Mr Henry Marten, a member of the House of Commons", after two months in Newgate Prison having been arrested for publishing "An Alarum to the House of Lords"
"... as says Sir Edward Coke in his exposition of Magna Carta ... page 46, branches 1, 2 and 5, in these words: '... No man shall be disseised, that is, put out of seisin, or dispossessed of his freehold (that is, lands or livelihood) or of his liberties or free customs (that is, of such franchises and freedoms, and free customs, as belong to him by his free birthright) unless it be by the lawful judgement, that is verdict of his equals (that is of men of his own condition) or by the law of the land (that is, to speak it once for all) by the due course and processes of law. ...'"
An Independent Judiciary: Edward Coke, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay
"[Charles I] resorted to forced loans which raised an estimated £260,000. Seventy-six men refused to hand over their money, and they were denied the right to a trial and imprisoned. ... Coke presented a bill which specified that no one could be imprisoned more than three months without being brought to trial. The House of Commons approved resolutions saying that nobody should be imprisoned unless the government specified the charges ... wrote Churchill '... the main foundation of English freedom. ... Trial by jury of equals, only for offenses known to the law, if maintained, makes the difference between bond and free.'"
A Summary View of the Rights of British America, by Thomas Jefferson, 1774
Details, as a resolution to be adopted by a congress of deputies of the various states, complaints against the current and previous British kings and parliament, including laws or decrees limiting commerce, suspending state legislatures and many more
"By the act for the suppression of riots and tumults in the town of Boston, passed also in the last session of parliament, a murder committed there is, if the governor pleases, to be tried in the court of King's Bench, in the island of Great Britain, by a jury of Middlesex. ... And the wretched criminal, if he happen to have offended on the American side, stripped of his privilege of trial by peers of his vicinage, removed from the place where alone full evidence could be obtained, without money, without counsel, without friends, without exculpatory proof, is tried before judges predetermined to condemn."
Related Topics: Free Trade, Property Rights
Fourth Circuit Moussaoui Ruling Is a Loss for the Constitution, by Jacob Hornberger, 30 Apr 2004
Free Cory Maye, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, May 2006
Further discussion and commentary on the case of Cory Maye (see "More Drug-War Victims", Dec 2005)
"Yes, he had a jury trial. But when the American people are bombarded with drug-war propaganda all their lives and when the police in a small southern town testify about the fatal shooting by a black man of one of their own (a white cop), objectivity and cool-headedness are not to be expected. Maye had little chance of being exonerated."
How Much Do You Know About Liberty? (a quiz), The Freeman, Jun 1996
A 20-question quiz (with answers) on various topics related to liberty in the history of the United States
"What method of resolving disputes did trial by jury replace? ... Trial by battle. Apparently the custom had been to settle many disputes by fighting. King Henry II (1154-1189) introduced a number of legal reforms which, among other things, gave people the option of having a group of peers resolve a dispute."
Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) and Foreign Policy: Spooner's Real Views About Everything, by Joseph R. Stromberg, 8 May 2000
Begins wih biographical summary and then delves into Spooner's views on slavery, the U.S. Constitution and the War Between the States
"Following his chosen path of working out the radical implications of the grounds of English law, Spooner published in 1852 his Trial By Jury. Reviewing the history of the jury system, he concluded that all statute law claiming to improve upon or overthrow the common law was ipso facto invalid. Further: fIf the real trial by jury had been preserved in the courts of the United States – that is, if we had had legal juries, and the jurors had known their rights, – it is hardly probable that one-tenth of the past legislation of Congress would have ever been enacted, or at least, that, if enacted, it could never have been enforced.'"
Lysander Spooner, Part 2, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, Nov 2005
Lengthy biographical and bibliographical essay; from 1852 to Spooner's death, examining An Essay on the Trial by Jury, the No Treason essays and his subsequent influence
"The right of people to defend themselves against the usurpation of government was the central theme of Spooner's ... An Essay on the Trial by Jury (1852), which some consider his masterpiece. Benjamin Tucker stated the gist ...: "No man should be punished for an offence unless by the unanimous verdict and sentence of twelve men chosen by lot from the whole body of citizens to judge not only the facts but the law, the justice of the law, and the extent of the penalty"; and "The gradual encroachment of judges upon the rights of juries" renders "the latter practically worthless in the machinery of justice.""
Pentagon Learns About the Sixth Amendment, by Jacob Hornberger, 30 Jul 2004
"Why did the Framers consider assistance of counsel sufficiently important to include it in the Bill of Rights? The Supreme Court explained in the 1938 case of Johnson v. Zerbst, '[The assistance of counsel] is one of the safeguards of the Sixth Amendment deemed necessary to insure fundamental human rights of life and liberty."
The Bill of Rights: The Rights of the Accused, by Jacob Hornberger, Future of Freedom, Feb 2005
"... the right to a speedy trial is to ensure that a federal prosecutorial hammer is not held over someone's head for an indefinite period of time and to prevent indefinite detentions of people accused of crimes. ... a public trial is to ensure that government prosecutorial actions are exposed to public view, so as to discourage abuses of prosecutorial power."
The Bill of Rights: Trial by Jury, by Jacob Hornberger, Future of Freedom, Jan 2005
"Trial by jury is one of the essential prerequisites of a free society. ... it is one of the ultimate safeguards against tyranny and oppression. ... Jury tampering to secure a particular result is much more difficult to accomplish, especially since the composition of the jury is unknown until the time of trial."

Cartoons and Comic Strips

It's to stop the terrorists ..., by Matt Davies, 15 Sep 2006
The Scales of Justice, by Clay Bennett, The Christian Science Monitor, Oct 2006


An Essay on the Trial by Jury [PDF], by Lysander Spooner, 1852
Partial contents: The Right of Juries to Judge the Justice of the Laws - The Trial by Jury, as Defined by Magna Carta - Additional Proofs of the Rights and Duties of Jurors - The Rights and Duties of Juries in Civil Suits - Objections Answered

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Jury trial" as of 21 Nov 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.