right to jury trial

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The right to a jury trial refers to the right provided by the Sixth and Seventh Amendments. The Sixth Amendment states that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused criminal has the right to a trial by an impartial jury of the state and district in which the individual allegedly committed a crime. Likewise, the Seventh Amendment states that for suits in common law, if the “value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” 

Background Precedence:

The Supreme Court has set legal precedent in a few important decisions regarding the right to a jury trial. Despite the phrasing “all criminal prosecutions” the Court has always excluded so-called petty offenses from the guarantee to a jury trial in federal courts. The distinction is drawn through looking at the maximum punishment or the nature of the offense. For instance, the Court has held that “no offense can be deemed ‘petty’ for purposes of the right to trial by jury where imprisonment for more than six months is authorized.” (Note that many petty offenses aggregated together do not satisfy this requirement even if the total time is more than six months). Furthermore, there is not a constitutional right to a jury trial in juvenile proceedings. Additionally, the court has made slight changes to certain phrases, such as with “criminal proceeding.” Previously, this term would have excluded civil proceedings (since they are clearly not criminal). The court later changed to focusing on the specific action, such that punitive sanctions necessitated the inclusion of a jury. One should note that in both criminal and civil cases, the right to a jury trial is waivable in certain instances. This also differs depending on the jurisdiction. For instance, in a federal district court, defendants can ask to waive the jury, but the court and prosecutor must agree. Additionally, the waiver must be in writing and done knowingly and voluntarily. Generally, the right is not waivable when a defendant faces the possibility of the death penalty

Civil Cases:

The Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial applies on the federal level. Unlike the Sixth Amendment, states are not required to guarantee civil trials under the Seventh Amendment. Nonetheless, most states have the right to a civil trial in specific cases to some degree in their state constitutions. For instance, under California Code CCP § 631, the right to a jury trial in civil cases is preserved, though it can be waived under several different circumstances. 

Case List:

See e.g.; The article titled Limitations on Trial by Jury by Peter Duff, discussing the limitations of the jury system. 

[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]