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In a recent post, we commented on the importance of the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. An integral part of the Bill of Rights, the Amendment preserves for all Americans the right to a jury trial in civil lawsuits. We discussed the efforts by corporate interests and others to restrict the ability of the victims of environmental pollution and other injured persons to present their cases to juries. We noted the need for courts and the organized bar to resist the efforts to curtail access to juries.
On 8/3/16, the Supreme Court of Delaware vindicated the right set forth in another central provision of the Bill of Rights: the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a “public trial, by an impartial jury” to those accused of crimes. The Court struck down the State’s death penalty statute, because it permitted judges to impose a death sentence in cases where a jury had not recommended it. The Court held:
If the right to a jury means anything, it means the right to have a jury drawn from the community and acting as a proxy for its diverse views and mores, rather than one judge, make the awful decision whether the defendant should live or die.
The Sixth and Seventh Amendments reflect the importance of our Founders placed on the jury system. In 1968, the United States Supreme Court observed that:
Those who wrote our constitutions knew from history and experience that it was necessary to protect against unfounded criminal charges brought to eliminate enemies and against judges too responsive to the voice of higher authority. The framers of the constitutions strove to create an independent judiciary but insisted upon further protection against arbitrary action. Providing an accused with the right trial by a jury of his peers gave him an inestimable safeguard against the corrupt or overzealous prosecutor and against the compliant, biased, or eccentric judge.
After all, there are only 10 Amendments in the Bill of Rights, and two of them establish the right to a jury trial, a device which the Framers knew was a necessary safeguard against the tyranny of economic and political powers. As citizens, we should do all we can to protect the right which is at the foundation of our democracy.
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