Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Monday, October 20, 2014

Do You Have The Right To A Jury Trial?

Any American who is familiar with the Bill of Rights knows that the Sixth Amendment contains “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” http://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/. However, this constitutional protection only explicitly discusses criminal trials; it does not discuss which type of criminal trial to which this right applies, nor does it mention civil trials at all. Does the right of a jury trial apply to any trial at a state or federal level, and specifically in Texas?

As the American Judicature Society notes, “the right to a jury trial is governed by three different sets of rules that apply to three different types of cases: civil cases in federal court, civil cases in state court, and criminal cases.” https://www.ajs.org/judicial-administration/jury-center/jury-system-overview/right-jury-trial/. As it is clear, both federal and state criminal trials provide the defendant the right to be tried by a jury for serious crimes, as established in Duncan v. Louisiana. http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1967/1967_410. A jury trial is not required for “petty crimes, defined as those punishable by no more than six months in prison and a $500 fine.” http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1967/1967_410.

However, the size of the jury may vary. In a federal criminal trial, the size can be anywhere between six and twelve people, set by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 48, although it is common to hear of twelve people serving on a jury. http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcp/rule_48.
In a state criminal trial, the jury does not have to be twelve people either—a jury can be made up with as few as six people, similar to a federal jury. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/jurysize.html. Additionally, in federal court, the verdict must be unanimous for a criminal defendant to be convicted. http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704407804575425912073977370. This is not the case with criminal trials in state courts, where the verdicts do not have to be unanimous for a conviction. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/jurysize.html.  

Civil litigants in federal court are also guaranteed the right to a jury trial through the Seventh Amendment, which states “in suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” http://www.ushistory.org/documents/amendments.htm. This amount is now $75,000, as enacted through federal statute. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/28/1332.

What about civil cases in state courts? These are determined on a state-by-state basis, usually through state laws and state constitutions. https://www.ajs.org/judicial-administration/jury-center/jury-system-overview/right-jury-trial/. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Seventh Amendment requirement of a jury in a civil trial does not apply to the states. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/08/12/does-the-seventh-amendment-civil-jury-trial-right-apply-to-the-states-and-to-puerto-rico.

In Texas there is a broad right to a jury trial, particularly in civil matters. See http://books.google.com/books/about/Texas_Civil_Procedure_Trial_and_Appellat.html?id=mS_K83aRwlAC. In fact, the right to a jury trial in Texas is so important that it is enshrined in two places—Article I, Section 15 of the Texas Constitution and Article 5, Section 10 of the Texas Constitution. http://www.divorcereality.com/the-texas-constitution-has-two-guarantees-to-the-right-to-a-jury-trial/. This right is so broad that a jury can be requested even for a divorce trial. http://www.parkcitieslaw.com/Family-Law-Overview/Divorce/Juries-in-Texas.shtml.

This blog post is not a complete overview regarding one’s right to a jury trial in every situation. Several U.S. Supreme Court decisions discuss each of the three aforementioned categories and each state has an authority determining whether a jury trial is necessary. However, this broad overview should be sufficient for brief, topical jury right issues. 

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