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U.S. News
7: Jury trial in civil cases

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


Article Three of the Constitution required the judiciary to provide a trial by jury for criminal defendants but made no mention of civil cases. When the states were asked to ratify the document, this absence was noticed. In addition to The Federalist pamphlets, local newspapers, such as The Poughkeepsie Country Journal, weighed in with a column authored anonymously, either by Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, or Melancton Smith, of New York, under the name The Federal Farmer. The author "observed upon the excellency and importance of the jury trial in civil as well as in criminal cases, instead of establishing it in criminal causes only we ought to establish it generally ... the jury trial is a solid uniform feature in a free government."

Carrie Johnson, an employee of the Jury Office at the U.S. District Court in Downtown Pittsburgh, spent a summer workday preparing jury summonses for the civil cases that come before the court. As many as 250 summonses, based on voter registrations throughout Western Pennsylvania, go out every two weeks.

Amendment VII: 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 reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

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