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"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury…”

U.S. Constitution, 6th Amendment

"In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved…”

U.S. Constitution, 7th Amendment


Bribery Deterrent:

Jurors are far less subject to bribery because jurors are unknown to the contesting parties and/or their attorneys until they are called into the jury-box.

The Bible commands judges not to take bribes (Exodus 23:8, Deuteronomy 16:19).  But judges at times disobeyed this command (Micah 3:11, Micah 7:3, 1 Samuel 8:3).  Thus, justice was perverted (Deuteronomy 16:19, 1 Samuel 8:3, Proverbs 17:23).

But, twelve adult men and women taken by random selection from a cross-section of the population will almost certainly NOT ALL be dishonest.  Most criminal laws require a unanimous guilty verdict to convict the accused.

Why “12” Jurors?

At common law, the English jury system typically used twelve jurors.  Most juries in the U.S.A. have twelve jurors.  It is possible that this number was chosen based on Jesus Christ choosing 12 apostles in the Bible's New Testament and/or the 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament (Luke 22:14, Luke 22:30,  Matthew 10:1-4, Exodus 24:4, Joshua 4:2).  But some states use as few as six jurors. In Ballew v. Georgia 435 U.S. 223 (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court stated that a five member jury is too small to decide a case fairly.

"…For centuries the jury has consisted of 12 men.  In 'Guide to English Juries' (1682) it is said 'In analogy of late the jury is reduced to the number of 12, like the prophets were 12 to foretell the truth, the Apostles 12 to preach the truth; the discoverers 12, sent into Canaan to seek and report the truth; and the stones 12 that the heavenly Jerusalem is built on.'" (Biblical Law by H.B. Clark, 1944 edition, page 293, note 50.

[In the ancient Hebrew text, the 12 minor prophets were one book called “The Twelve”) 1- Hosea, 2- Joel, 3- Amos, 4- Obadiah, 5- Jonah, 6- Micah, 7- Nahum, 8- Habakkuk, 9- Zephaniah, 10- Haggai, 11- Zechariah, and 12- Malachi.   The 12 Apostles (Matthew 10:2-4, Luke 6:13-16).  The 12 Discovers (Numbers 13:1-33).  The 12 Stones (Revelation 21:14)].

Jurors are selected, thus elected, but their tenure is temporary…unlike certain career judges and politicians.

"The grand solid merit of jury trial is that the jurors...are selected at the last moment from the multitude of citizens. They cannot be known beforehand, and they melt back into the multitude after each trial." 

John Henry Wigmore (1924)

Tyranny Deterrent:

Take away the right to a trial by jury, and tyranny and crime have greater opportunity to increase, grow, multiply and prevail.

It is so much harder to “bribe, blackmail or coerce” a jury of twelve citizens than to do so to one judge.

Note: I am not opining that judges are easily bribed or coerced.  It is just that it is more difficult to do so with a jury than a judge!

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote:

“[W]hat many of those who oppose the use of juries in civil trials seem to ignore [is that [t]he founders of our Nation considered the right of trial by jury in civil cases an important bulwark against tyranny and corruption, a safeguard too precious to be left to the whim of the sovereign, or, it might be added, to that of the judiciary.”

Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore (1979) 439 U.S. 322, 343

"Trial by jury is our fence and protection against all frauds and surprises and against all storms of power."  

Sir John Maynard, Sergeant at Law (1689)

Pure Democracy and Collective Wisdom:

The jury is democracy in its purist form…a government of the people, by the people, and for the people…common folk, yes, everyday citizens, a cross-section of society, elected and selected into office of jurors to, with their collective wisdom, rule on the facts of the case.  Next to voting, no other activity is as participatory.   Jury duty has a collateral benefit of educating jurors about the legal process.

The right to jury trial by one’s peers is a “cornerstone of the individual freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.”  In criminal cases, the government cannot take away one’s “right to life, liberty, or property” until all twelve fellow citizens determine that one is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  In civil cases, the jury is to be “the community’s conscience and common sense in resolving disputes.”

Juries are able to privately deliberate with minimal government interference. Attempts by government and its officials to interfere with jury deliberations are unacceptable.


While jurors are typically carefully screened by the trial lawyers, they have prejudices and propensities that some lawyers seek to manipulate.  Jurors are fallible.  But, cases can be appealed.  Further, in limited circumstances, judges can overturn a jury’s verdict [i.e., Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (“JNOV”)].  

Many attorneys and those "in the know" recognize that, based on the admissible evidence presented in court and the legal definitions provided, juries almost always "get it right."

But, regarding our perception of troubling jury verdicts, often what we don’t know is that we don’t know.  We don’t hear all of the evidence presented.  The jury does. We don’t see the witnesses demeanors.  But the jury does.  “We see in the mirror dimly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  What we get is the media’s oftentimes distorted, ratings-driven, or agenda-driven spin.  See The McTruth About the McDonald's Coffee Burn Case.

Further, in civil cases, giant money damages awards tend to be awarded in only the most egregious cases and the most serious harms.  But the rare outrageous verdicts tend to be reported by the media, while rarely reported are the defense verdicts where the injured party loses the case.


Are there jury trials in the Bible?

The right of a trial by jury is a U.S. constitutional right.  It is not an expressly Biblical mandated right.

Under the Old Testament Mosaic Law, guilt was determined by judges rather than juries.  Further, the Roman courts of Jesus time also utilized judges and not juries.

"In ancient times, court was held at the gate of the city or town, where all public business was transacted before the elders and in the presence of all who came and went.  The gate was known as the 'judgment place,' and the judge sat there upon the 'judgment-seat,' the people standing before him."  (Biblical Law by H.B. Clark, 1944 edition, page 279).

    See Deuteronomy 16:18, Amos 5:15.

"The ancient trial before elders was the forerunner of the trial by jury, which became established in England after 1066...” (Biblical Law by H.B. Clark, 1944 edition, page 293, note 50.

The Apostle Paul advocated private mediation and arbitration (private trial) before by a selected wise Christian to judge the legal civil disputes that occurred between fellow Christians (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).  See article regarding Christian v. Christian disputes.  See also how separation of church and state doctrines keep certain church disputes out of public courts (Intra-Church Disputes).

Thus, while a judge without a jury based system works well if the judge is fair, impartial, and does not take bribes, a jury system is an effective means for minimizing the risk and the breadth of such corruption.


Employment Disputes: Juror rights seem to be eroding a little more all the time.  For example, take many employees… Many employers have newly hired employees sign an "arbitration agreement.” The "agreement" is verbose and riddled with legalese.  Eager to start working, many employees don’t read the "agreement" which is intermingled in a slew of other documents and forms.  Unwittingly, they have given up their Constitutional right to a jury trial.

Incrementalism: The elimination of jury trials will not occur at one time. Rather, the right will slowly be eroded in piecemeal fashion.  For example, a growing number of states have taken away the right to jury trial in DUI (driving under the influence) type of cases, even though such charges may lead to jail time as well as fines and penalties.  

Supreme Court Rulings: In violation of the express terms of the U.S. Constitution (ignoring the words “in all criminal prosecutions…”), the U.S. Supreme Court  held that a state does not have to provide a jury trial is the defendant faces less than six months in prison. See Baldwin v. New York, 399 U.S. 66 (1970) and Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970).  The downside to not having a right to a jury in such cases, "onerous though they may be, may be outweighed by the benefits that result from speedy and inexpensive nonjury adjudications." Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas, 489 U.S. 538 (1989).
Non-Jury Types of Cases: Further, in disputes with the I.R.S., E.P.A. and many other regulatory agencies, the case is typically heard by an administrative law judge employed by the same agency that one has a dispute against.  

There is no right to a jury, as for example, military criminal justice, as well as certain other types of cases.


Too Many Trials: There are too many trials.   Many trials regard small matters or petty offenses not worthy of time and expense of a jury trial.  Court calendars are overcrowded.  Often, due to overload of the court system, trials are delayed months or years.

Too Complex:  In cases involving difficult questions of law or complex facts, judges or expert panels are better equipped to make a determination.  For example, in an antitrust case, stock manipulation, or a patent dispute, can the average citizen truly comprehend the economic, scientific, and/or accounting issues involved?

Too Much Time and Money: "Bench trials" where no jury is involved, take less time.  They cost less taxpayer money.  And they may be reviewed and potentially overturned by appellate courts.  

Too Capricious: Juries are notoriously fickle, and can more easily be manipulated by crafty attorneys compared to a judge.


See section above regarding the “SOCIETAL ADVANTAGES OF A JURY SYSTEM” for compelling arguments in favor of the jury trial right.

Judge Only Optional: Additionally, for those who believe one judge is better, if both sides to a dispute agree, that option is available.  

Democratic: Society needs to meaningfully participate in a democratic form of government.   Voting is one way to participate.  Jury service is another way to responsibly participate.

Erosion of Constitutional Rights: “If Americans allow those in power to bypass trial by jury, that concept -- in fact, all of our Bill of Rights -- will be in danger of extinction.”  It’s the so-called “domino effect.”

Safeguard: “Those who wrote our constitutions knew from history and experience that …[p]roviding an accused with the right trial by a jury of his peers gave him an inestimable safeguard against the corrupt or overzealous prosecutor and against the compliant, biased, or eccentric judge.” Duncan v. Louisiana 391 U.S. 145 (1968).


"Trial by jury is the most rational and effective method for discovering the truth."  Sir John Fortescue, Chief Justice of the King's Bench (1468)

"Trial by jury is a wise distribution of power which exceeds all other modes of trial."  Edward Coke, Chief Justice of Common Pleas (1628)

"The right of trial by jury cannot be guarded with too much vigilance, nor defended with too much ardor. If the people surrender it, their other rights will inevitably follow."  Joseph Towers (1764)

"Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty."  John Adams (1774)

"You ought to be extremely cautious, watchful, jealous of your liberty; for instead of securing your rights, you may lose them forever..."   Patrick Henry (1788)

"Trial by jury in civil cases is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature."  James Madison (1789)

"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."  Thomas Jefferson (1801)

"...Trial by jury cannot be corrupted unless the whole body of the people be corrupt... Instances of perverse or dishonest verdicts there will be, because the attribute of perfection does not belong to any human institution. ..." J. Sydney Taylor (1838)

"Illegitimate and unconstitutional practices get their footing . . . by silent approaches and slight deviations from legal modes of procedure ... It is [our] duty ... to be watchful for the constitutional rights of the citizen, and against any stealthy encroachments thereon..."  Justice Bradley (1886)

"We may never have tyrants, . . . but if we should have them, they will seek to accomplish the downfall of free government, not by directly overriding the Constitution, but by using the forms of law to strangle and subvert its spirit."  Charles S. May (1875)

"The jury system is the handmaid of freedom…Rome, Sparta and Carthage fell because they did not know it, let not England and America fall because they threw it away."  Charles S. May (1875)

"Trial by jury is essentially a child of freedom. ... It is the greatest safeguard of liberty, and the greatest protector of its privileges."  Sam M. Wolfe, A Defense of the Jury (1911)

"Trial by jury must and shall be preserved! Amidst the throng of crude sacrilegisms . . . that assail us nowadays in the legal sanctuary, none is more shortsighted, none more dangerous, than the proposal to abolish trial by jury."  John Henry Wigmore (1925)

"Trial by jury must be preserved. It is the best system ever invented for a free people in the world's history."  John Henry Wigmore (1929)

". . . The popular attitude toward the administration of justice should be one of respect and confidence. Bureaucratic, purely official justice, can never receive such confidence. The one way to secure it is to give the citizen-body itself a share in the administration of justice. And that is what jury-trial does."  John Henry Wigmore (1929)

"The first ten amendments to the Constitution safeguard [those] fundamental rights . . . [that] the framers of the Bill of Rights regard[ed as] certain liberties ... so vital that legislative denial of them should be specifically foreclosed..."  Justice George Sutherland (1937)

Copyright 2013 by M.B. Tozer

DISCLAIMER: This document is for educational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice. This document provides general information, which may or may not be correct, complete or current at the time of reading. This information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship.  Further, it is not intended to constitute legal advice or substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed in your state. For legal advice, please contact an attorney.

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