By Francis M. Smith
A great deal of news coverage following highly publicized court cases have repeatedly seemed to highlight the flaws of relying on a jury to determine the party at fault in a range of different types of cases.
Individual citizens generally dread the task of going in for jury duty. It often happens that experts in a given area of law - such as an accident law - are highly outspoken about their concern that common citizens are unlikely to understand the legal ramifications of different situations and issues.
Clearly, the concept of electing civil jury members is highly debatable. The Framers of the Constitution were of course envisioning judicial procedures for a much simpler time when some of the complex issues that plague our courts did not existent. Popular opinion at large - whether it be from the common citizen, accident lawyer, legal scholar, or any other member of society - often questions the equity of civil jury decisions.
Serving jury duty in predates voting by more than eight decades in the Constitution. Jury service was originally limited to criminal cases. It was the 7th Amendment that brought civil cases under the judgment of juries. The concept of the jury was so pervasive in the early days of the Constitution that three of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution have to do with rules and procedures regarding juries.
Jury service and voting are similar rights of citizenship. Assisting in the determination of a verdict for a court case is in fact a type of vote. According to Akhil Amar of Yale University, the Framers actually envisioned the jury as a sort of small version of a Parliament exerting authority over a court case.
Although jury service is now conceived of as being a "duty", it was originally considered by the Framers of the Constitution to be a right. But whose "right" was satisfied through the establishment of a jury? Was it considered to be the right of the suspect? The citizen? The plaintiff?
In fact, jury service was initially seen as satisfying the rights of all of these participants in the proceedings at the same time. As a citizen of the general public, jury members were enjoying a further right over the development of laws and legal precedents by not only voting for representatives who would be responsible for designing and implementing legislation, but also for determining how legislation could be interpreted through jury service.
It's true that the civil jury is never going to be a perfect solution to the predicament of judging a court case in every situation, and any accident lawyer is surely aware of a variety of instances where a juries ruling has been highly questionable. Juries will always be flawed, just as the individuals who make them up are imperfect humans.
The media is quick to publicize jury blunders rather than successes. Also, the common citizen is perhaps less and less inclined to carry out civil duties without complaint.
Yes, there are numerous flaws in our civil litigation system. Juries are not the only aspect of our judicial system that leads to some regrettable decisions. However, it's important to be aware of their benefits just as one critiques their flaws in an effort to make our civil litigation procedures function as effectively and justly as possible.
If you are looking for a personal injury lawyer, you need to find someone who understands how to fairly and expertly select jury members and effectively present information to juries in an effort to strive for justice for his or her clients. It is equally important that your attorney know when to forgo a jury trial and settle your case with the defendant or much more often, the defendant's insurance carrier.