This week, we celebrate July 4, the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence
from England. It is worthwhile to consider one of our liberties most in
jeopardy, the right to trial by jury. It is the foundation for our civil
justice and criminal justice systems. Yet, for years it has been attacked
in every state legislature and in Congress. No lawmaker has been so bold
as to openly offer legislation abolishing the jury, but by sleight of
hand many have sought to accomplish the same. They do it by sponsoring
legislation that will immunize privileged classes from various forms of
Our Florida legislature often proposes and passes laws restricting jury
trials and verdicts. Before our jury system is demolished, we would do
well to remember history. The concept of trial by jury is over a thousand
years old. Its use has been documented in a variety of civilizations.
When the founders of this country enumerated their grievances in the Declaration
of Independence, England's deprivation of trial by jury was in the
forefront of their complaints. Later, James Madison famously refused to
sign the constitution unless the right to trial by jury was included.
Thomas Jefferson considered a jury trial the only anchor by which a government
could be held to the principles of its constitution.
The importance of this right is evident by its inclusion as the seventh
amendment in our Bill of Rights. Our founding fathers recognized that
the collective wisdom and ultimate judgment of ordinary people, imperfect
as it may be, is the most reliable means devised by man to resolve conflicts
in American courtrooms. Considering the vision and courage of men like
Madison and Jefferson, the right to trial by jury, ever under attack by
the powerful who seek to obtain even more advantage for themselves, must
be honored and defended.