The Constitution of the United States guarantees the right to trial by jury. This right means that no citizen can be deprived of their liberty or property based upon the belief of a prosecutor or a judge alone. The right to trial by jury not only protects the accused but also makes each juror an integral part of the government.
Many countries do not give an accused the right to trial by jury but rather let judges decide the fate of its citizens who have been charged with crimes. There are some who argue judges should decide all cases rather than letting citizens determine disputes between the government and the accused. While there is no definitive answer as to which system is better, there can be no doubt that the right to trial by jury allows citizens acting as jurors to play an important role in preserving liberty and justice in this country.
When the Constitution was enacted, the right to trial by jury empowered the jury to not only decide the facts but also consider whether the law was correct and properly applied against the defendant. Today jurors are told that the law is for the judge to decide and the jurors must accept the law as given by the judge. There are some who contend that the jury should have the right to disagree with the law in a particular case or to disagree with the application of the law to a particular defendant.
In a criminal case courts instruct a jury that the matter of sentencing is up to the judge and is not to be considered by the jury, except in death penalty cases. In many cases, there are harsh long-term minimum mandatory sentences which the judge must impose. The jurors are not told of the sentence which the judge must impose. Many would contend that the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution would expect today’s jurors to be told of the minimum mandatory sentence in order to properly act as a check against excessive punishment.
Even today many cases result in not guilty verdicts even though a careful analysis of the evidence would indicate that the government proved its case by establishing all necessary facts for conviction. When this happens it is referred to as “jury pardon” or “jury nullification”. Many historians believe that the drafters of the Constitution intended a “jury pardon” as a way for the jury to stand between the citizen and an unjust prosecution either because the law was unjust or because a law was improperly applied.
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