A jury trial is not always guaranteed. The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does guarantee the right to a trial by jury trial in all criminal prosecutions. In federal courts only, the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been interpreted to apply only to civil lawsuits in which money damages are claimed, e.g., breach of contract or personal injury.
A state’s law determines when jury trials are available in state courts. For this reason, when a person may have a right to a jury trial in civil cases in a state, civil court varies in the different states.
The Supreme Court has long made a distinction between such “legal” claims and “equitable” claims. The Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not apply if a civil lawsuit in a federal court seeks an equitable remedy, such as an injunction, where no money damages are involved.
However, many state courts’ juries do not look the same as federal courts. Some state civil juries only consist of 6 or 8 jurors. Again, the laws regarding jury trials in state courts are different in different states.
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.” So, in federal civil court, If a person is involved in a lawsuit in which the amount sought is greater than $20, your right to a trial by jury is preserved.
What Does a Civil Jury Look Like?
The Supreme Court has interpreted the Seventh Amendment as including a jury of 12 people under the supervision of a presiding judge. Among a judge’s many duties during a trial, when the parties to a case have finished presenting their evidence and making their arguments to the jury, the judge has the important job of instructing the jury about how they should proceed to decide the case.
The judge tells the jury what the law is and that it should apply to the facts. Of course, it is up to the jury to decide what the facts are, i.e., which side presented the most persuasive case and the most reliable evidence. Then, the jury deliberates and discusses among themselves the evidence they heard and the parties’ arguments. The jury decides on a verdict of guilty or not guilty in a criminal case or on a verdict for the plaintiff or defendant in a civil case.
The judge does have the power to set aside the jury’s decision. This would happen only very rarely when the losing party convinces a judge that the jury’s verdict was obviously made in error and does not follow the law that applies in the case.
How Is a Jury Chosen?
There are different procedures for choosing a jury in different court systems. However, in all systems, potential jurors are chosen at random. The court system has an office that handles this function. Mostly, potential jurors are chosen from the rolls of registered voters who live within the jurisdiction of the court seeking jurors.
Then, a smaller group is chosen at random to sit in the jury box for possible selection as members of the jury. The attorneys for both parties and the judge have a right to question jurors as they are called for service. The judge begins the questioning, seeking to learn by asking the prospective jurors questions to ensure that each prospective juror is legally qualified to serve on a jury. The judge always wants to know that a juror would not cause them undue hardship.
The jury selection system allows each party the right to question the jurors in order to find out whether there is any reason they might not be qualified to serve. This process is known as “voir dire,” a Latin expression that means “to speak the truth.”
Today, many judges do all of the questioning themselves because they feel that lawyers try to persuade the jurors rather than merely select them. However, if that is not the way it works, the lawyers for the parties question the jurors.
The attorneys can challenge a certain number of jurors and have them excluded. The lawyers can reject a certain limited number of potential jurors without stating a reason. This is known as the “right of peremptory challenge.” The number of peremptory challenges that each lawyer has is limited.
Lawyers may challenge other potential jurors for cause. They would have to state a good reason as to why the juror is not qualified to serve. The judge considers the challenge and then either allows it or denies it.
For example, a juror’s answers to questions may reveal that they have personal knowledge about one of the parties to the case or another person who has a connection to a case. The need to disqualify the juror in this situation would be clear.
The rationale for peremptory challenges is that they enhance the confidence of the parties in the verdict that the jury delivers. In addition, peremptory challenges are a way to help guarantee that jurors are truly impartial. Lawyers make peremptory challenges on the basis of their intuitive reading of jurors’ characters and their ability to assess the parties’ respective cases.
The peremptory challenge gives lawyers the opportunity to use training and experience to dismiss jurors who might say the right thing in response to questions. However, it might otherwise have biases that might affect their view of either of the parties.
When the questioning and challenges have finished, the jurors and alternates are sworn in for service, and a trial can begin.
A juror can be dismissed from a jury while a trial is in session or even while the jury is deliberating its decision. This happens only rarely, but it is possible. For example, a judge always tells jurors not to read or listen to media reports concerning the case in which they are jurors. They should even avoid talking to family and friends about the case.
If a juror were to disobey this direction and the judge was to learn about it, the judge might disqualify the juror. Or, in another type of scenario, a juror might become ill and unable to serve. This is why there are alternates who are ready to step in if a serving juror becomes unable to continue.
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 to jury trials in state courts.
Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for My Jury Trial Issue?
If you are concerned about your right to a jury trial in a criminal case, you want to consult a criminal defense lawyer. LegalMatch.com can quickly connect you to a qualified lawyer who is completely familiar with the right to trial by jury in both federal and state criminal courts.
If you are concerned about your right to a jury trial in a civil lawsuit, such as a personal injury or contract suit, you want to consult a civil trial lawyer. An experienced civil trial lawyer has knowledge about when to opt for trial by jury and when to opt for trial by a judge.
You might need a trial by jury and have a right to one. If that is the case, your civil trial lawyer would know how to request it and then how to choose jurors and present your case in such a way as to succeed with a jury.