The Daily

What Is A Jury Trial No. 6: The Closing Door

Steps Of The United States Supreme Court


No one gives a damn about the things I give a damn about. The liberties that we can’t do without seem to disappear like ghosts in the air. When we don’t even care, it truly vanishes away.

            Jason Isbell, Alabama Pines

In this jury trial series, we’ve been through history, television and the movies. Now, consider the news.

On August 9th of this year, I posted on our Firm Facebook page a story from the New York Times. I put it up mainly for personal interest – to read later when I had time. I was surprised to see – out of the blue –  a major media outlet focusing on my professional obsession – one of our fundamental and forgotten liberties. The article was titled,  Trial By Jury, A Hallowed American Right, Is Vanishing.

When I posted the article, I wrote that “Freedom isn’t free. You have to fight for it. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.”

When I went back to my Facebook page to click on the link, I was astonished at the response. Within a week, my Facebook post reached almost 8,000 people, generated 350 post clicks and more than fifty reactions. I have never had a similar response to anything else I have posted. Not even close.

The NYT article focuses on a dramatic decline in criminal trials caused by mandatory sentencing guidelines in both State and Federal Court. Obviously, I recommend the read.

Without juries, the American justice system is forced to rely on closed door deals made between prosecutors and defendants. Justice loses its transparency and citizens lose their 7th Amendment role to steer society, described by De Tocqueville in the first of this jury trial series. What Is A Jury Trial No. 1.

One could easily make the same observation with regard to civil jury trials. In fact, as De Tocqueville notes in Number 2 of this series, the civil jury (as opposed to the jury in criminal cases) is the real leverage guiding the nation’s conduct. What Is A Jury Trial No. 2.

Every year, Federal and State legislation in one instance after another – talked about as ‘tort reform’ – takes away the right to a jury verdict. Sometimes, politicians restrict the 7th Amendment right so substantially that there is no point in pursuing a case at all (the most severely injured persons are hurt the worst in these instances). If a jury trial was a gun, there would have been riots in the American streets long ago. On a related note, you cannot get a jury trial against gun manufacturers due to a law passed in Congress.

In most cases, these special laws give immunity to powerful special interests. Recent examples include hospitals, financial and security firms, insurance companies and rental car companies. The rights of ordinary citizens harmed by the conduct of these companies are severely restricted or even eliminated by politicians doing the bidding of the lobbyists shilling for these industries.

The end result is that jury trials are vanishing and the courthouse doors are in danger of closing. For good.

As you can imagine, the statutory minefield created by all of these laws is treacherous to navigate. Successful experience in that endeavor is critical when choosing your lawyer.