July 4th's Promise of Liberty Includes the Right to a Trial by Jury

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 liability.

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.

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