When the American colonists declared their independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, they set out their reasons for doing so.
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having a direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
Under these words they listed their grievances, which included tampering with the independence of the judiciary and making the military superior to civil power. Anyone who loves American history should read the entire list to understand why the colonists were willing to risk their lives and reputations to break away from the British Crown.
One of the items on the list held up as proof of George III’s tyranny has meaning for anyone who has ever had a legal case. It states:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury
The American colonists were referring to the fact that the Sugar Act of 1764 had entrusted military courts with enforcing the acts of the British Parliament related to revenues and commerce. The British government later increased the number of these courts and all trials were conducted with juries.
The American colonists viewed trial by jury as a necessary protection to their rights and the rights of the individuals against government tyranny. A trial by jury was designed to ensure that the power of the government courts could not be brought against a person unless it was approved by a body of that person’s peers.
Ever since the colonists enshrined the idea of a trial by jury in the Declaration of Independence, Americans have viewed it as one of the central rights. It is the right that guarantees that victims of negligence in car crashes and truck accidents, fraud and other wrongs can get their day in court before a jury of their peers. The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution contained in the Bill of Rights states that “in suits at common law . . . the right of trial by jury shall be preserved”. The drafters of the Bill of Rights sought to ensure that the right to a jury trial that existed in 1971 at common law would remain.
There are a lot of actors that would like to see this fundamental right restricted. It is common place to hear powerful corporations talk about limiting the right to trial by jury because they are hostile to verdicts rendered against them. It is important for us as citizens to be wary of any attempts seeking to change the rights guaranteed by the federal and state Constitutions. These are the rights for which the founders of the country fought and the rights which protect innocent people when they are the victims of negligence—whether that negligence comes in the form of a car crash, a truck accident, an unsafe work practice in Spokane, Washington or failure to ensure that a product is safe. Our Constitution says that it is ultimately the responsibility of the people to determine who is at fault and what should be the result.
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