Know Your Rights: Your RIght to a Jury Trial
Your right to a jury trial is your most important right in the judicial system.
Protect it always.
A jury trial has its history in the United States Constitution. From the early days of the American revolution, many colonists living under British rule were subjected to harsh accusations and were tried in front of British judges. Because of that unfairness upon the accused, the founders of our nation decided that a person would have a right to a jury trial and that the members of the community chosen as the "jury" would determine the outcome of a trial subject to the rules of the judge. This is a very important right and it serves as a constitutional check against abuse of power. It allows 12 ordinary citizens to determine what is right, what is wrong, who wins and who loses. Thomas Jefferson, a great proponent of the jury system, stated that given a choice between the right to vote and the right to a jury trial, he would give up the right to vote and take the right to the jury trial. He believed that a right to a trial by jury is the most important element of a democracy.
The attack on the jury system.
In recent times, the jury system has been under attack. The insurance lobby has submitted various tort reform legislation which is meant to limit jury awards. While all frivolous lawsuits are bad, their actual numbers are quite low and are usually filed by those without lawyers. Under our current system, judges have a right to throw out all cases through “summary judgment” when they do not meet the qualifications of a valid case or the plaintiff has not submitted any evidence that they have a case. Now, the insurance lobby wants to limit awards on valid cases. This is meant to tie the hands of juries and prevent them from awarding damages over a certain amount even though they feel that damages should be awarded of a certain amount. This right was guaranteed to injured persons and their families in the Texas Constitution. The legislature recently passed limits which, on their face, were in violation of the Texas constitution. Proposition 12 (which also recently passed very narrowly) allowed for the change in the Texas Constitution so that injured persons and their families no longer had this guarantee. Our rights as Texans and our rights to have our cases heard by juries are being whittled away. Many people do not realize that in the Texas Declaration of Independence, one of the reasons set forth for independence was Mexico was the failure to provide a full and fair jury trial to its citizens. It is and will always be one of the most important aspects of a free and democratic society. You should protect it always.