The legal system of the United States is an intricate structure that many find difficult to understand. Some say that trying to translate the legal jargon requires a law degree, a Ph.D., or both. However, if you look at the history of the United States, its legal system becomes easier to decipher, and the rights it affords its citizens and residents. An example would be the right to trial by jury.
The Constitution of the United States is the most important document with regard to America’s legal structure. In many ways, it defines it. The Bill of Rights can be found in this document, created in order to provide citizens with their individual rights and to protect them from rule by a tyrannical government.
Our current court of law is built on and evolved from these documents. They have afforded us many rights that we use to legally defend ourselves and seek justice. The attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. can explain one of the most important rights, our right to trial by jury.
Many people do not know where these amendments came from. Did the framers simply develop them from nothing? Do they have a historical background? Did the United States borrow ideas from other countries? Are there nations that have a legal system that is comparable to the United States?
The answer to all but one of the above questions is yes. The framers did not develop the first ten amendments to the Constitution from nothing. The Constitution’s legal structure can trace its beginnings back to the rich history that is the English Common Law.
A prime example of English Common Law functioning in the United States can be found in the 6th Amendment. This amendment is where the United States guarantees among other things, the right to a trial by jury.
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law…”1
This amendment continues a practice found in the Common Law–the right to trial by jury. Before trial by jury was implemented in Common Law, witnesses were the only legal measure granted to an individual so that they may try to prove their innocence. Impartiality was not a major concern. Jurors were appointed to prevent false witnesses from proclaiming an innocent man guilty. In Common Law, jurors are, “twelve good and lawful men of the neighborhood where the fact is alleged, who stand in no relation to either party at issue.”2
Obviously, the makeup of juries has changed since the formation of the Common Law – women are now also jury members and there is a minimum age requirement. What has not changed is the demand for an impartial jury to provide fairness and justice to the accused.
In Common Law, if it is found that any of the jury members are impartial, the panel will be “quashed,” and twelve more jurors will be chosen. A jury has a great weight on its shoulders, as it must decide the guilt or innocence of an individual. However, a jury must be up to the task because, “the law shall never be determined by witness alone a cause which can be decided by a jury of twelve men, since this is in a better and more effective method for eliciting the truth than the method of any other law in the world, and further removed from the danger of corruption and subordination.” The United States took one of the best aspects of English Common Law, and affixed it within its own legal system.
Common Law doesn’t only exist in the United States and England. It can be found in countries spanning the globe. Where Common Law is found, trial by jury follows. In areas where the British Empire once had footholds, one can see the legal tradition of Common Law flourishing, with regional peculiarities. That is not to say that if a country was not previously under the control of England, it does not follow the practices of Common Law. It can be found in some form around the world.
Just because we have the right to a trial by jury as U.S. citizens, does not mean we always get one. In recent history, there have been instances where the right to a trial by jury was circumvented by loopholes in contracts. You would think that these contracts would be between large businesses arguing over millions on Wall Street. While that does happen, the truth is that the right to trial by jury can also be evaded close to home.
Through a process called mandatory arbitration, citizens are denied their right to a trial by jury. Arbitration is a way of solving disputes without going through the court system, using a paid mediator, also known as an arbitrator. People may not even know that by signing certain contracts they are in fact signing away their rights or the rights of their families to a jury trial. We often see mandatory arbitration clauses hidden in nursing home contracts and employment contracts.
It is hard enough to endure the painstaking decision and process of admitting a loved one to a nursing home without having to worry about the fine print in a contract. In this setting, families are inundated with paperwork, trying to ensure the best care for their loved ones. It’s likely that they are not paying close attention to what they are signing. Then the worst case scenario happens, when someone you trusted to take care of your loved one betrays that trust and harms them instead.
With “mandatory arbitration” buried in the contract as the only means of resolving a legal dispute, the families of the victim are forced to sit down with an arbitrator who is likely not looking to keep things fair. In many cases, the arbitrator’s decision is final and cannot be appealed. Oftentimes, the decision of the Arbitrator adds “insult” on top of “injury.”
At Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. we believe to be denied the right to a jury trial is a perversion of justice. The only appropriate response is that to protect your rights, you must respond with legal fore.
Do you need to file a personal injury lawsuit for yourself or a loved one? When your life or that of a loved one is “hanging in the balance,” would you rather take your case to a jury of your peers or a paid mediator?
Hopefully, you will not have to make that decision but if you do, the attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. can help. We represent families who deserve fair compensation for serious injuries and wrongful death. Contact the legal team who is small enough to care and large enough to win™ in Northeast Pennsylvania.
1 Bill of Rights Institute, “Bill of Rights of the United States of America (1791),” Updated 2015, http://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/.
2 Sir John Foretescue, On the Laws and Governance of England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), Chapter 25.
3 Sir John Foretescue, On the Laws and Governance of England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), Chapter 25.
4 Sir John Foretescue, On the Laws and Governance of England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), Chapter 32.
Rachel D. Olszewski, an attorney at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C., is a dedicated advocate for clients who have suffered unjust harm. Following the legacy of her esteemed family members, Rachel specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice, and criminal defense. She is actively involved in professional associations and serves on the board of the Luzerne County Bar Association Charitable Foundation. Rachel is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania state courts and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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