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The Jury System In America

The English jury system migrated to colonial America, but the English did not allow juries in all cases. The denial of the right to a jury trial in all cases inflamed the colonists, and it was one of the many reasons for the revolt against England's rule. During the American Revolution, many states included the right to a jury trial in their state constitutions. After the United States won the war, the framers of the U.S. Constitution inserted the right to a jury trial in several places: in Article III, Section 2, the right to a trial by jury in criminal cases; in the Fifth Amendment, which provided for grand juries in criminal cases; in the Sixth Amendment, which guaranteed the right to a trial by jury in serious federal criminal cases; and in the Seventh Amendment, which provided for a jury trial in civil cases where the amount in controversy exceeded $20.

The basic characteristics of juries have changed slightly over the years. Originally, in England, juries were inquisitorial. That is, they could ask questions of the parties. Additionally, the early juries were chosen for their knowledge of the facts of the case. Over time, as populations increased, it became too difficult for courts to insist that a juror have knowledge of the facts of the case, and juries became comprised of persons who were, until the trial, ignorant of the case facts. Under contemporary law, the parties in a case generally prefer jurors who do not know the circumstances and facts of a case. In today's mass communication society, however, it is not always possible to find jurors who have not heard of a particularly infamous case. If those persons can promise to keep an open mind about the case, they may serve on a jury.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesJuries - History, The Jury System In America, Modern Juries, Further Readings