The Seventh Amendment (Or, I demand a jury trial.)

Posted by Steve Jackson on Jan 30th 2024

The Seventh Amendment (Or, I demand a jury trial.)

2-minute read

“In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

First of all, while the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was focused on Criminal law, which governs the handling the major crimes such as murder, this Seventh Amendment is meant for legal matters involving civil law having to do with lawsuits for more than $20.

Civil suits are settled in state courts while criminal trials are held in federal courts.

The dollar amount is the same as it was when the amendment was signed December 15, 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, but inflation has deflated its value. $20 back then when corrected for inflation, would be about $500 in 2024.

So, what is the subject of this amendment? It is mostly about the right to have a jury trial to settle the suit against you. First, let’s define a jury.

A jury is a group of your peers picked at random. For criminal trials usually 12 are selected. For civil trials the number can vary from 6 to 12. Both the prosecution and the defense ask questions of the prospective juror and both have to agree on seating that juror. There are often two additional jurors selected as replacements should one or two have to leave.

Conviction in a criminal trial is determined by a unanimous decision except for two states: Louisiana and Oregon. In civil trials one-third of the states only require a majority.

The law to guarantee a jury trial traces back into ancient Greece which continued into English law books. Why a jury trial and not a decision from the judge? Because judges can be biased and not be trusted to deliver a correct decision. In medieval England the judge was the king who welded enormous power. Today the judge explains the case, discusses the law and manages the court room proceedings.

Common law means laws based upon precedence, customs and “rules” instead of “statute” laws based upon written law from legislation. When the Sixth Amendment was written there was concern that it unnecessarily assumed that civil trials were to be included. The Seventh Amendment corrected that assumption.

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