A United States citizen’s right to a trial by jury is important because it protects people from laws or legal interpretations that are out of sync with the values of ordinary citizens. A trial by jury helps maintain the United States’s commitment to a society free from a tyrannical government.
The Right to a Trial By Jury
The Founding Fathers established the right to a trial by jury. The right is provided to citizens in the 6th Amendment of the Constitution. The Amendment begins, “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 …”
This Amendment is not practiced by the letter in modern courts. The Supreme Court has since clarified that petty crimes, meaning crimes where the maximum penalty is fewer than six months in prison, do not require a jury. In addition, juvenile crimes, which are prosecuted as civil cases, do not use a jury to determine a verdict. However, the 6th Amendment is a bastion of American democracy, and it is still applied to a majority of cases throughout the country.
Citizen Involvement In Legal Processes
The U.S. Constitution was designed to balance the three branches of government—Legislative, Judicial, and Executive—so that decision-making power could be dispersed evenly. No one branch, party, or person can overpower and suppress the others due to a system of checks and balances. A trial by jury is a vital aspect of this system because, like voting, it is an opportunity for a citizen to directly contribute to the inner workings of government.
A trial by jury is one of the clearest ways for a person to participate in democracy. From legal issues involving negligent driving in motor vehicle accidents, to work injuries caused by workplace hazards, the U.S. government leaves the personal freedoms of its litigants in the hands of people without a legal background. This shows the extent to which the U.S. is willing to allow its people to decide the country’s moral direction, therefore building trust between the government and the governed. When a country gives its citizens decision-making power within the courts, the people are more likely to feel that their laws are just.
A Check on Unjust Laws
Bills are introduced, debated on, and voted upon by politicians, and then converted to laws. Though U.S. citizens are involved in the creation of laws insofar that they vote for their representatives, they are not invited into the major processes that create the finished product. A trial by jury is a check on that discrepancy.
When a jury of twelve people get the final say on how they interpret the law, they can decide exactly the extent to which the law should be enforced. This could mean that if the jury does not agree with the law, they can decide not to convict. In addition, this system allows jurors to consider the specific circumstances under which the defendant did or did not violate the law.
This is where a citizen can step in and make a difference in the way the U.S.’s legal system is applied. Given the ability to enforce or not enforce laws, it is as though a citizen is permitted to act as his or her own government for the particular case he or she oversees.
The Founding Fathers knew they wanted to form a government that involved a revolutionary amount of participation from the populace. Even in the Declaration of Independence, the desire for a trial by jury is mentioned as a major cause for their restlessness.
A trial by jury creates a more peaceful country because the populace is more involved in the application of the law. A jury acts as the last check on unjust laws because a jury can refuse to convict someone simply because the law did not reflect the morals of the country it governs.