Essay by: Amanda Fitzpatrick
Essay Subject: The right to a trial by jury is a fundamental tenet of our legal system which is enshrined in the United States Constitution. Under current law, however, only people accused of serious crimes that are punishable by more than six months prison have an absolute right to a jury trial. Do you agree with the current state of the law? Why or why not.
When students learn about the US Constitution in high school, they read the words, talk about them, even memorize them, but they still don’t necessarily know all of the facts. They don’t know that freedom of speech is limited by things like slander laws, or that their protection against search and seizure doesn’t apply in the case of suspicion of terrorism, or that they can be stopped on the street and frisked without a warrant, based on suspicions of the officer doing the frisking. Finally, they are unaware that their right to an impartial jury only applies when the sentence is greater than six months in prison. This, in particular, while it has benefits, could use improvement.
It makes a great deal of practical sense to have a limit on what cases should have a jury and what cases shouldn’t. If every single court case had a jury, it would take ages to get anything done. Small monetary disputes, divorce cases, traffic tickets, parking violations- judges see dozens of those small cases every day. If each of those cases had a jury, it would take much longer to try each case, more people would be taken off work each week for jury duty to handle the case load, their workplaces would slow down, which would slow down all the places connected to those workplaces. When you think of the consequences of having a jury for every case, the very idea becomes ludicrous. Of course, those cases can refuse a jury, but the effect would still be substantial. So, having a jury for every case would definitely be inefficient, problematic, and potentially chaotic. Civil cases, small disputes, private cases should stay private. That has been established. But what about the not-so-small cases? The ones where someone ends up in prison? Is it really fair to let someone go to prison, even for as short a time as a couple of months, without at least the option of a jury?
It is my belief that when prison is on the table in a case, the accused should at least be given the option of a jury. I believe some defense lawyers would most likely advise their client to avoid it altogether. Sometimes, the publicity and drama of a jury trial is not worth whatever small benefit it could bring, especially when the defendant appears to be very clearly guilty. If the defendant then chooses to opt out of a jury trial, that is their prerogative. However, the option should be there. America is not a land of privilege. Its streets are not paved with gold. It’s not perfect, and opportunity does not knock on every door. Opportunity must be sought out. America is the land of opportunity because every person has the option to seek out that opportunity. This should be true in every part of America, including our justice system.