Trial By Jury
By Lance A. Cooper
“For almost eight centuries trial by jury remains the best, safest, surest and perhaps the only bulwark to protect the basic rights of the average citizen. It is still the ‘Lamp of Liberty’ and it must be preserved.”
The Case for the Jury System (1969)
Joseph T. Karcher
As Americans, we take pride in the freedoms bestowed upon us by the United States Constitution. The freedom of the speech and freedom of religion preserved by the First Amendment. The right to bear arms, preserved by the Second Amendment. The right to due process which is preserved by the Fifth Amendment. Unfortunately, most Americans tend to ignore what is perhaps the most important right preserved in the Constitution – the right to trial by jury as declared by the Seventh Amendment. The right to trial by jury essentially protects the remaining rights set forth in the Constitution. When the government attempts to take away our rights, the Seventh Amendment gives us the right to ask a jury of our peers to reject the government’s oppressive actions.
Why is a brief history of our constitutional law important in 2010? It is important because there are interest groups in our country who would like nothing better than to do away with our right to trial by jury. For the past few years, our federal and state governments have attempted to enact laws which would eliminate jury trials in most civil cases. They have succeeded in some cases. For example, almost all claims involving stockbrokers must be arbitrated according to federal law. What does arbitration mean? It usually means that three persons approved by the securities industry decide claims made by consumers against stockbrokers. This is like the fox guarding the hen house. Not surprisingly, arbitrators usually award consumers only a small percentage of the amount of money they actually lost. The reason for this is obvious – if the arbitrators actually awarded consumers the full amount of their damages, stockbrokers and the companies they work for would not choose them as arbitrators in the future. Given this lack of accountability, it is not surprising that the unscrupulous practices in the securities industry have lead to consumers losing billions of dollars over the last few years.
Unfortunately, the trend to restrict jury trials continues. The medical industry is promoting the concept of “medical review panels” deciding medical malpractice cases instead of juries. These medical review panels would be made up of, of course, medical professionals. Does anyone truly believe that a victim of malpractice would receive justice under these circumstances? Companies which manufacture products are also attempting to take away consumers right to a jury trial by mandating arbitration in product liability cases. Many times the only reason product defects are discovered by the public is through the efforts of consumers and the lawyers who represent them uncovering these problems during the civil jury process.
Recently, millions of American rallied around the country to protest against the federal governments intrusive policies. Many of us are rightly concerned about our eroding rights. We should all be just as concerned about the federal government’s efforts to erode our right to trial by jury. As Mr. Karcher’s quote at the beginning of this article succinctly states, if we were to lose this right we would be certain to lose other rights as well.