Know and Protect Your Right to Trial by Jury

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

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 quite easy to decipher. The Constitution of the United States is the most important document with regards 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. 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. However, the framers did not develop the first 10 amendments to the Constitution from nothing. The legal structure that is found in the United States 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. That 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 is continuing a practice found in the Common Law, 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, in order to provide the highest level of justice to the accused. In Common Law, if it is found that any of the jury members are not impartial, the panel will be “quashed,” and 12 more jurors will be chosen.3 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.”4 The United States took one of the best aspects of English Common Law, and affixed it within its own legal system. The Common Law is not a legal system that exists only 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 being 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.5 People may not even know that by signing a contract 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. 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, so they may not be 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 not always looking out for the little guy. 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 when you or a loved one is harmed at the hands of another is a perversion of justice and must be met with legal force. Learn about what your rights are pertaining to a trial by jury.Learn about mandatory arbitration and how it may affect you or someone you know. Read all contracts and legal documents fully and carefully; if you need legal advice, seek help. 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 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 winTM 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 32.5 California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, “Don’t Sign Arbitration Agreements.” Web. Electronically published 2008. www.canhr.org/arbitration.