The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

Speedy and Public Trial, Impartial Jury, and Being Informed of the Accusation

Jury Trials

Protections in the Constitution

By the time of the American Founding, the jury trial was such an established institution of Anglo-American jurisprudence that no one would have questioned its value and importance. In Joseph Story’s 1830 Commentaries on the Constitution, he wrote that the right of the accused to be judged by his peers was “a fundamental article of Magna Charta.” The American colonists “brought this great privilege with them, as their birthright and inheritance.” With this protection, they thereby built barriers “against the approaches of arbitrary power.” It was a right, he said, that was protected by all the state constitutions as well as the United States Constitution.

No one at the Constitutional Convention would have doubted its value. Indeed, the Framers did not wait for a bill of rights to include a jury trial provision in the Constitution. Without much debate, they added these words to Article III, Section 2:

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

Little did they realize that opponents of the Constitution would seize upon this clause as proof that the Constitution did not provide enough protection for jury trials.