The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial on all criminal charges, and has been extended to all 50 states through the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment. However, there is no guarantee of a jury trial in any civil cases unless Congress, a state constitution, or state legislature has granted their constituents a right to a jury trial. Some critics want to eliminate jury trials in civil cases altogether, believing that judges are more efficient and more capable of handing out just verdicts.
While courts have a duty to seek the best method of dispensing justice, they no doubt should consider the efficiency of legal proceedings. Providing juries for all civil trials would be very costly, and the legal system may not always be financially able to support the increased cost of providing a twelve or six person jury for all civil trials. The jury process does add complexity and additional procedural efforts to a civil trial, as well as the expense of calling potential jurors to jury duty and selecting them.
But, trials are not necessarily designed to be cost free. They are meant to provide a just outcome to those involved, and one of the reasons our Founding Fathers wanted jury trials in all criminal cases was to avoid having a single government employee decide all issues that came before the court. The Founding Fathers desired juries as a check on the power of the government and judges, and because judges are limited to their own life experiences, while a jury can draw upon twelve perspectives of what is just.
The Founding Fathers designed the federal government around the separation of powers. Why shouldn't the court system work the same way? Ideally, the judge should apply the law, and the jury should decide the facts. Without limiting the power of judges to decide the whole outcome of a case, you would have this guy.
The belief that a judge is more capable of providing a just outcome to a trial has never been proven. A common argument is that juries are not capable of understanding the complex issues that sometimes arise in civil trials, as compared to the facts of criminal trials which are usually simpler to grasp, excluding many white collar crimes. But what makes a judge better fit to understand complex cases? If jurors who are selected from the jury panel to serve are not intelligent enough to understand the facts of the case, then the lawyers have done a bad job during jury selection. Additionally, how many judges are more capable of understanding accounting, medical, or engineering issues than a lay juror? Theses disciplines not taught in law schools, and judges are not selected for their capability in non-legal matters, although rare courts like the Federal Circuit are made up of specialists.
While it may be inefficient allow juries for all civil cases, trying to eliminate juries in civil cases is not necessarily the most effective way to ensure just trial outcomes, as no judge will be an expert on all the issues that come before him. Juries will consist of people who have varied careers and life experiences, offering the courts the chance to use their experience as the factual decision makers at trial.