A jury trial is a court proceeding in which the verdict is determined by a panel of ordinary citizens. This type of trial is rooted in the traditions of English common law and has been the foundation of justice for centuries. In this article, we explore the history of jury trials, from their origins in medieval England to their important role in the United States today.
The Origins of Jury Trials
The concept of trial by jury is said to have been developed in the 11th century, when King Henry II of England discovered that he needed his barons to help him with his legal matters. He and his barons would meet in a form of court called the Curia Regis. During the Curia Regis, the barons were responsible for resolving disputes between the king and the people, as well as determining guilt or innocence in criminal cases. These barons, rather than the king, were the ones who decided the verdict of these cases.
The Curia Regis eventually evolved into what became known as a jury of presentment. This was a panel of 12 people who were chosen from the local community and tasked with presenting evidence to the court. This was the first instance of a jury trial in England, and it was the beginning of a centuries-long journey for the concept of jury trials.
The Development of Jury Trials
In 1215, King John of England issued the Magna Carta, which granted certain rights and freedoms to the people of England. One of these rights was the right to be tried by a jury of peers. This was a fundamental shift in the legal system of England, as it meant that the people could now be tried by their peers, rather than by the king or the barons.
In the centuries that followed, jury trials continued to develop. In 1275, the Statute of Westminster was passed, which established the right of a convicted person to appeal a verdict if they felt that the jury was biased or the verdict was unjust. In the 16th century, the jury system underwent further changes, with the introduction of the grand jury and the petit jury.
The Right to Trial by Jury in the United States
The right to trial by jury was an important part of the foundation of the United States. The Founding Fathers viewed it as a fundamental right, and it was enshrined in the Constitution in 1791. The 6th Amendment to the Constitution states that “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.”
The right to trial by jury was further strengthened in 1868, with the passage of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment established the right of all citizens to trial by jury regardless of race, sex, or religion. It also gave the Supreme Court the power to determine the constitutionality of criminal trials.
Why Were Jury Trials So Important To The Founders Of The United States?
The Founders of the United States viewed the right to trial by jury as an important protection from the power of the government. They believed that a jury of ordinary citizens would be less likely to be swayed by the influence of the government and would be more likely to make a fair and impartial decision.
The jury system also allowed for an element of popular participation in the judicial process. By giving ordinary citizens the power to decide the outcome of a trial, the Founders believed that they were creating a more democratic system of justice.
Jury trials have been a part of the legal system for centuries. They were an important part of the foundation of the United States and remain a cornerstone of the justice system today. By understanding the history of jury trials, we can gain a better understanding of how justice has evolved over time.