This amendment provides for the right to trial by jury in certain civil cases, according to common law.
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
It’s common to hear people grumbling about being called upon for jury duty. While it can certainly interfere with your plans, a trial by jury is an important right that we all have as American citizens, to be judged by our peers for our crimes and to have their findings be protected from any overturning by a court of law.
With a minimum requirement of six jury members for a trial, It’s relatively clear what the advantage is when multiple people view evidence and come to a verdict; having multiple opinions counted for the same set of evidence surely increases the probability that the verdict will be accurate. Likewise, there is less room for bias when multiple points of view are counted. One’s case will not be subjected solely to the discretion of one judge, with all the prejudices and faults in judgement that all human beings have, regardless of officiality or professional status. The trial by jury is a practical application of the concept of government of the people and for the people, since ordinary citizens comprise the decision-making apparatus, what would otherwise be a state-affiliated entity, for the sake of other ordinary citizens.
The findings of the jury are protected from being overturned by the court; that is, the court cannot circumvent the jury’s discretion and impose its own verdict. The judgement of ordinary American citizens is given authority over the court, giving power to the people and preventing the state from having too much disciplinary and discretionary power.
However, the concept of the trial by jury is not a perfect idea. It’s quite obvious that, even when multiple points of view are incorporated into a decision-making process, widespread societal and cultural biases can taint the judgement of the jury and lead to false convictions (need I reference To Kill a Mockingbird again?). Courts of law can be bound by these same biases, as they are not immune to cultural influence, but theoretically, they are supposed to come from a position of neutrality and rule according to the facts of the case. It’s a laughable idea to imagine a completely unbiased entity comprised of human beings (who are always experts at being needlessly prejudiced), but surely one can consider professionalism and adherence to formal procedure and protocol principles that are, to some degree, held by state and court officials and judges.
Regardless of its fallibility, however, I hold the right to a trial by jury in high regard. It is a system of justice in which members of society make decisions instead of powerful legal entities, an important part of the free state.