Yes, all three have one thing in common. Let’s start with the latter two. At first glance, the average American might wonder – one’s a criminal case over the murder of a child, the other a civil suit over spilled coffee; in the former, the defendant, Casey Anthony, was found not guilty by the jury of the most heinous of the six charges against her, while defendant McDonald’s was found liable by the jury, which assessed damages in the millions of dollars. But the common thread is this: The “OUTRAGE!” expressed by average Americans to the decisions of the jury in each case sadly reflects, in large part, a lack of respect for and/or knowledge of the jury system, a jury system built into and protected by the Bill of Rights and beloved by our Founding Fathers. Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, an attorney and expert on the Constitutionally protected jury system, said it best and simply this morning when commenting on the Casey Anthony verdict: “Trial by jury may be an imperfect system, but it is better than all of the alternatives.” Amen to that! Hopefully more Americans will come to understand and appreciate the wisdom of the jury system.
Although Mr. Phillips commented solely on the use of the jury system in criminal cases, we know that the Founding Fathers didn’t consider the right to a jury trial in civil cases to be subordinate to the right in criminal cases. My work here is all about educating readers on that critical point, especially given my opinion that the 7th Amendment right to a civil jury trial is the most unknown and endangered of any right protected by the Bill of Rights.
Which brings me back to John Adams. No Founding Father embodies the respect reserved for jury trials in civil AND criminal cases than John Adams. After all, it was John Adams who stepped up to represent the British soldiers who participated in the Boston Massacre in order to persuade a jury of Bostonians – ANGRY Bostonians who HATED the British – that the soldiers were not guilty of murder. You can read his famous closing argument on the website dedicated to the Boston Massacre. Near the end, note those oft-quoted words of Adams, “Facts are stubborn things,” and finishing with perhaps the greatest tribute a trial attorney can pay to a jury: “To your candour and justice I submit the prisoners and their cause.” And the jury acquitted the British captain and six of his soldiers, subjecting Adams to the “OUTRAGE!” of his fellow citizens for his persuasive abilities.
And we know that Adams cherished the right to a civil jury trial too. I wrote last August of his published letters defending the unalienable rights of Americans, one of which included the following:
“The people choose a grand jury, to make inquiry and presentment of crimes. Twelve of these must agree in finding the bill. And the petit jury must try the same fact over again, and find the person guilty, before he can be punished. Innocence, therefore, is so well protected in this wise constitution, that no man can be punished till twenty-four of his neighbors have said upon oath that he is guilty. So it is also in the trial of causes between party and party. No man’s property or liberty can be taken from him till twelve men in his neighborhood have said upon oath, that by laws of his own making it ought to be taken away, that is, that the facts are such as to fall within such laws. What a satisfaction is it to reflect, that he can lie under the imputation of no guilt, be subjected to no punishment, lose none of his property, or the necessaries, conveniencies, or ornaments of life, which indulgent Providence has showered around him, but by the judgment of his peers, his equals, his neighbors, men who know him and to whom he is known, who have no end to serve by punishing him, who wish to find him innocent, if charged with a crime, and are indifferent on which side the truth lies, if he disputes with his neighbor!”
John Adams walked the walk, and Americans like Judson Phillips do so today. Instead of quickly condemning juries who adjudge accused murderers and unusual civil suits, we should look to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, take a deep breath, and thank the Founders and God Almighty for the jury system for criminal and civil cases.