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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.

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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
Full title: An Arrow Against All Tyrants And Tyrany, shot from the Prison of New-gate into the Prerogative Bowels of the Arbitrary House of Lords and all other Usurpers and Tyrants whatsoever
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"
[A]s 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. ...
The Bill of Rights: Due Process of Law, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Nov 2004
Describes the origins of due process in the Magna Carta, the basic requirements of "notice" and "hearing", other guarantees (e.g., assistance of counsel, trial by jury of peers), habeas corpus and comments on the current state of affairs
Other due-process protections were included in the Sixth Amendment. For example, the amendment guarantees the right of trial by jury, which protects the right of the accused to be judged by ordinary people in the community rather than by the judge presiding over the case. ... government witnesses against the accused have to be brought into court to face the accused and subject themselves to cross-examination by the accused or his lawyer. The accused also has the right to use the subpoena power of the court (i.e., "compulsory process") to force favorable witnesses to come to court to provide evidence on his behalf.
The Bill of Rights: The Rights of the Accused, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Feb 2005
Discusses the various clauses of the Sixth Amendment, with the rationales behind them and citing relevant court decisions
The idea behind 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 ... The idea of a public trial is to ensure that government prosecutorial actions are exposed to public view, so as to discourage abuses of prosecutorial power ... Finally, we should note that pursuant to the express language of the Sixth Amendment, all these procedural rights belong not only to Americans but also foreigners whom U.S. authorities charge with a crime.
Related Topics: Law, Magna Carta, Terrorism
The Bill of Rights: Trial by Jury, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Jan 2005
Explains why a trial by a jury of ordinary people was considered an essential constitutional guarantee and discusses jury nullification in real and hypothetical cases
Why were our ancestors so insistent on enumerating trial by jury among the constitutional guarantees in the federal criminal-justice process? Why weren't they satisfied with judges' deciding the guilt or innocence of an accused, as is done in most other countries? ... [A] jury composed of ordinary people from all walks of life is more likely to ask a deeper and much more profound question when faced with whether to permit the government to punish a defendant: Is the crime which he is accused of committing just, and, if not, should the jury acquit him even though it is clear he committed the crime?
Fourth Circuit Moussaoui Ruling Is a Loss for the Constitution, by Jacob G. Hornberger, 30 Apr 2004
Discusses the rulings of a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, with respect to compelling witnesses in the accused's favor in accordance with the Sixth Amendment
The Sixth Amendment reads in pertinent part:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor.
What this provision means is that when the federal government charges a person with a crime, he has the right to employ the power of the government to bring witnesses to trial who will testify in his behalf. ... The accused asks the court clerk to issue what is called a "subpoena" ... ordering a person to appear in court ... The defendant then has the right to call the witness to the witness stand and ask the witness the relevant questions.
Free Cory Maye, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, May 2006
Further discussion and commentary on the case of Cory Maye (see Richman's article "More Drug-War Victims", Dec 2005) [Update: Maye's sentence was overturned in Sept. 2006 and he was finally released in July 2011]
Balko reports that his first appeals attorney, a public defender, was fired ... This doesn't inspire confidence in the justice system ... Instead, it suggests that a man who was defending himself against a late-night intrusion into his home was railroaded. 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
1. 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. Historian F.W. Maitland: "The person sued might refuse trial by battle and have the question 'Who has the best right to this land?' submitted to a body of his neighbors sworn to tell the truth."
An Independent Judiciary, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay of Edward Coke; first chapter of section 9, "Protecting Liberty"
When [Charles I] resorted to forced loans, seventy-six men refused to comply. They were denied the right to a trial and imprisoned ... Coke presented a bill that specified 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 ... "We reach here," 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."
Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) and Foreign Policy, 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
[W]orking out the radical implications ... 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: "If 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, Freedom Daily, Nov 2005
Lengthy biographical and bibliographical essay; this second part is 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) ... Benjamin Tucker stated [its] 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 G. Hornberger, 30 Jul 2004
Discusses how the Supreme Court decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld affected the Pentagon handling of the case of Ali Saleh al-Marri, one of three "enemy combatants" (the other two being Yaser Hamdi and José Padilla)
The [Supreme] Court's language was clear and unequivocal: "Hamdi ... has been appointed counsel, with whom ... he is now being granted unmonitored meetings. He unquestionably has the right to access to counsel in connection with the proceedings on remand ..." 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 ..."
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, ... 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

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.