The Daily

Seventh Son: The 7th Amendment Right to Jury Trial

If America’s founders hadn’t guaranteed the right to a jury trial in our Constitution, we might look like Canada (who inherited the same English common law and history).

Early in the jury system, an accused was required to consent to be tried by a jury. However, the choice was illusory. Coercive methods were used including the loading of heavy stones on the accused’s chest. Since the consequence of a guilty verdict was the confiscation of all the accused’s property, some chose to die rather than be tried by a jury. If there was no trial, there was no forfeiture, and the estate would be passed on to the accused’s heirs.

My first series of posts here were about jury trial rights in America. In Number One, I covered the English history we share with Canada, including the profound change wrought by Magna Carta. America took this change one step further after its founding.

A Federal Bill of Rights didn’t come until after the Constitution was written (the bitter Ratification Convention of 1887-88), when Congress approved the first ten Amendments in 1789. The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to trial by jury.

“When the English adopted trial by jury, they were a semi barbarous people; they have since become one of the most enlightened nations on earth, and their attachment to this institution seems to have increased with their increasing cultivation. They have emigrated and colonized every part of the habitable globe; some have formed colonies, others independent states, the mother country has maintained its monarchical constitution; many of its offspring have founded powerful republics; but everywhere they have boasted of the privilege of trial by jury. They have established it, or hastened to re-establish it, in all their settlements. A judicial institution which thus obtains suffrages of a great people for so long a series of ages, which is zealously reproduced at every stage of civilization, in all the climates of the earth, and under every form of government, cannot be contrary to the spirit of justice.”

            Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Page 281.

The link to the modern take on Canadian jury trials is here. The link to my post on American jury trial rights is here.