Right to a Jury Trial
What is the Seventh Amendment?
The Seventh Amendment of 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"" If you are involved in a lawsuit (in which the amount sought is greater than $20), your right to a trial by jury is preserved.
Isn't a Jury Trial Always Guaranteed?
No, a jury trial is not always guaranteed. The Sixth Amendment grants the right to a jury trial in criminal prosecutions. The Seventh Amendment has been interpreted to apply only to civil suits in which money damages are claimed (e.g., breach of contract, personal injury). The Supreme Court has long made a distinction between such "legal" claims and "equitable" claims. The Seventh Amendment does not apply if the lawsuit seeks an equitable remedy (such as an injunction) where no money damages are involved.
What Does a Civil Jury Look Like?
The Supreme Court has interpreted the Seventh Amendment as including a jury of 12 persons under the supervision of a judge who instructs the jurors on the law, advises them on facts, and may set aside their verdict. However, many state courts' juries do not look the same as a federal court's. Some state civil juries only consist of 6 or 8 jurors.
How is a Jury Chosen?
You may also have to help in choosing the jury. There are different procedures in different court systems. However, in all systems, a group of potential jurors is chosen at random. Then, a smaller group is chosen to sit in the jury box where they are questioned by the judge and parties. Today, many judges do all of the questioning because they feel that lawyers try to persuade the jurors rather than merely select them. The parties may then "challenge" jurors, excusing them from service. When both sides can agree on a jury, it is sworn in.
In Which Courts Am I Guaranteed a Civil Jury?
The Seventh Amendment covers courts under the authority of the federal government, including those in territories and the District of Columbia. However, it does not apply generally to state courts. If the issue in a state court is a federal right, the court cannot completely eliminate a civil jury.
Do I Need an Experienced Constitutional Law Attorney?
An experienced constitutional law attorney would be able to help you determine what your rights are under the Seventh Amendment. A lawyer with experience would know how to choose a jury and which potential jurors should be excused. A lawyer would also know if you were guaranteed a jury based on the claims of your lawsuit.
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Last Modified: 01-04-2011 01:44 PM PST