The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution addresses the principles associated with the right to a trial by jury in criminal cases. The Sixth Amendment states:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
There are stipulations to the principle of a jury trial. In criminal proceedings, the right to a trial by jury is indicated when a crime carries a penalty of at least six months in jail. If the crime does not carry a penalty of at least six months in jail, the right to a jury trial is not guaranteed. In juvenile court proceedings, the right to a trial is not afforded in juvenile delinquency actions.
The principle of jury trials helps to ensure impartiality in criminal cases. It allows the evidence to be presented by both the prosecution and the defense to a neutral panel of the defendant’s peers. The aim is to assure a fair trial. In many cases, judges are elected officials therefore the jury trial helps to reduce the occurrence of outside influences affecting a decision in a criminal case. A shortcoming of the jury trial is that jurors are laypeople who may be required understand advanced legal theories or to endure laborious proceedings.
The Seventh Amendment provides for jury trials in specific civil cases in federal courts. State court systems are not required to provide jury trials for civil cases, although many states do. Therefore, less than one percent of civil cases involve a jury.