The Jury: The Voice of The Community

The Jury: The Voice of The Community

The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution says that, in civil cases, “the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” West Virginia’s Constitution also protects this important right, guaranteeing that “the right of trial by jury, if required by either party, shall be preserved.”

But what makes this right so important?

The Founding Fathers believed that the right to a jury was absolutely fundamental. Consider the words of Thomas Jefferson: “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” Patrick Henry was convinced that jury trials empowered the common man and guarded against oppression: “Why do we love this trial by jury? Because it prevents the hand of oppression from cutting you off ... This gives me comfort—that, as long as I have existence, my neighbors will protect me.” Philosopher Lysander Spooner put it even more bluntly: “If a jury have not the right to judge between the government and those who disobey its laws, the government is absolute, and the people, legally speaking, are slaves.”

The Supreme Court has recognized that juries are meant to give the people a common voice: “[The] purpose of a jury is to . . . make available the common-sense judgment of the community.” It is through the jury system that community men and women of all races, creeds, and backgrounds come together and speak with one voice—demanding that those who do harm must be held accountable.  

To a derelict doctor, a jury can say: “If your negligence causes injury to one of your patients, you will not walk away. You will compensate that patient!” To a company that puts profits over the safety of its workers, a jury can say: “Enough! You will not treat workers like that in our community!”

The voice of the jury can be powerful. The voice of the jury can be a force for change. But there are efforts that are meant to silence the jury’s voice. Next time, we’ll take a closer look at what those are.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Today's blog: Have you ever been selected to be part of a jury? The right to a trial by jury is something that has been ingrained into our political system ever since the Constitution was signed back in 1787.