A Conversation on the Constitution: The Right to Trial by an Impartial Jury
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A Conversation on the Constitution: The Right to Trial by an Impartial Jury


IN THIS CASE, SOMEBODY HAD BEEN
INJURED, AND HE WAS SUING THE PEOPLE WHO HAD INJURED HIM,
AND WANTED RECOVERY, AND IT WENT TO A JURY TRIAL,
DIDN’T IT? HAVE ANY OF YOU EVER WATCHED
A TRIAL IN A COURT WHERE THERE WAS A JURY? RAISE YOUR HANDS IF YOU HAVE. YEAH, SEVERAL HAVE. AND… EVERY STATE, IF THERE’S AN ISSUE
OF FACT TO BE DECIDED IN A PRIVATE CASE, NORMALLY
ALLOWS THE PLAINTIFF TO SAY, “WELL, I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE A
JURY TRIAL.” AND IF SO, PEOPLE ARE
CHOSEN AT RANDOM FROM THE VOTER REGISTRATION
LIST TO SERVE AS JURORS. AND MAYBE IT’S GOING TO BE
A 12-MEMBER JURY. SO THEY’LL SUMMON 30-SOME PEOPLE TO COME TO
THE COURT, AND THEN THE LAWYERS CAN
QUESTION THEM, RIGHT? AND THEN THE LAWYERS
HAVE A CHOICE IN WHICH OF THOSE 30-SOME
PEOPLE IN THE COURTROOM THEY WANT TO SELECT
FOR THE JURY. AND IN THIS CASE, WHAT HAPPENED
IN THE EDMONSON CASE? WELL, THE LEESVILLE CONSTRUCTION
COMPANY DECIDED TO USE TWO OF ITS PEREMPTORY
CHALLENGES TO REMOVE TWO POTENTIAL JURORS FROM
THE JURY, AND THOSE TWO JURORS WERE
AFRICAN-AMERICAN. AND IT WAS DECIDED THAT
THE JUR– THAT THE PEREMPTORY CHALLENGES
WERE RACE-BASED. YES, THAT WAS ULTIMATELY THE
DECISION. BUT YOU CAN UNDERSTAND THE
PROBLEM. SUPPOSE THE PLAINTIFF IN THE
CASE IS AFRICAN-AMERICAN. AND SUPPOSE THE POTENTIAL
JURORS ARE THERE AND IT TURNS OUT THAT THE
OPPONENT, THE DEFENDANT
IN THE CASE, THEIR LAWYER, PEREMPTORILY CHALLENGES AND
REMOVES EVERY AFRICAN-AMERICAN
FROM THE JURY POTENTIALLY. AND SO THERE
YOU ARE. YOU DON’T HAVE ANYONE OF YOUR
OWN RACE ON THE JURY. LET ME ASK YOU THIS QUESTION.
WHAT DO WE HAVE JURIES FOR,
ANYWAY? WE’RE PRETTY GOOD JUDGES. IF WE WERE DOWN TRYING A CASE INVOLVING A HOMICIDE OR A
BURGLARY, A DRUNK DRI– WHAT DO WE NEED JURORS FOR?
I MEAN, WE KNOW ALL THIS STUFF. HAVING JURORS IS A WAY OF
REPRESENTING THE PEOPLE
IN THE COURT. WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT? BEFORE, WE HAD VICE
ADMIRALTY ACTS, WHICH HAD ONE PERSON, LIKE, FOR THE WHOLE COURT
TO DECIDE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO SOMEONE
WHO WAS PUT ON TRIAL, AND THAT WOULD LEAD TO A
BIASED PROSECUTION. DO YOU THINK IT’S A BETTER
SYSTEM TO HAVE JURORS MAKE SOME OF THE DECISIONS IN
THE LEGAL SYSTEM THAN TO
HAVE JUDGES MAKE THEM? – YES, BECAUSE THAT’S…
– ARE THEY SMARTER? NOT… …EXACTLY, BUT THEY… WELL, YOU CAN BE HONEST. DO THEY KNOW AS MUCH ABOUT
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE
COMMUNITY AS JURORS DO? JURORS ARE MORE CLOSER TO THE
COMMUNITY BECAUSE THEY ARE
THE COMMUNITY. THEY’RE AMERICA. NOW, DO WE HAVE A RIGHT
IN THE CONSTITUTION TO HAVE A JURY TRIAL IF WE’RE
A PLAINTIFF? DO WE HAVE A RIGHT TO A
JURY TRIAL? WE NOT ONLY HAVE A CIVIC DUTY
TO BE ON A JURY, BUT WE HAVE A CIVIC RIGHT
TO BE ON THE JURY. WHERE IN THE CONSTITUTION
DO YOU HAVE THAT JURY TRIAL RIGHT? IN… AMENDMENT 6. AMENDMENT 6 FOR CRIMINAL CASES. WE HAVE CRIMINAL, WHICH IS
DIFFERENT FROM THAT. WE HAVE CRIMINAL, WHICH IS THE
SIXTH AMENDMENT FOR FEDERAL, INCORPORATED INTO THE– AS TO THE STATES BY THE 14th
AMENDMENT DUE PROCESS CLAUSE. THEN WE HAVE CIVIL JURIES, AND
WE’RE TALKING ABOUT A CIVIL
JURY HERE, THAT’S IN THE FEDERAL COURT, WHERE THERE’S A JURY TRIAL
RIGHT UNDER THE SEVENTH
AMENDMENT. SO THERE’S A CONSTITUTIONAL
RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL IN
THIS CASE. AND YOU THINK THAT THIS IS
IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT BRINGS THE CITIZENS INTO THE OPERATION
OF THE LEGAL SYSTEM. SUPPOSE I’M DRIVING MY CAR AND
I HAVE AN AUTO ACCIDENT, AND I’M INJURED, AND I WANT TO SUE THE PERSON
THAT I THOUGHT CAUSED THE
ACCIDENT. AND I GO TO COURT WITH MY CASE. I CAN HAVE A JURY TRIAL. SUPPOSE I’M AFRICAN-AMERICAN.
I’M THE PLAINTIFF, AND
I’M SUING, AND A JURY IS PICKED, AND THE OTHER SIDE CHALLENGES AND HAS REMOVED FROM
THAT JURY PANEL EVERY AFRICAN-AMERICAN ON
THE PANEL, SO THAT I DON’T HAVE ONE LEFT
ON MY JURY. NOW, IS THAT A VIOLATION OF A
CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT,
DO YOU THINK? WHAT IS THAT? WHAT CAN YOU
DO ABOUT THAT? YES? IT’S A VIOLATION OF THE
JUROR’S RIGHT TO SIT ON A JURY
AND HEAR THE CASE. WELL, BUT THE JUROR ISN’T
COMPLAINING. IT’S THE OTHER SIDE, THE OTHER
PARTY. IT’S THE PARTY
WHO’S SUING. AND I’M SUING IN THIS CASE,
AND I WANT A JURY, AND I’M AFRICAN-AMERICAN,
AND THE OTHER SIDE REMOVED EVERY AFRICAN-AMERICAN
FROM THE JURY. I THINK IT’S YOUR RIGHT
TO AN IMPARTIAL JURY, – YOUR RIGHT TO AN IMPA– YES,
A RIGHT TO AN IMPARTIAL JURY. WELL, WHAT I WANT IS A PARTIAL
JURY. I WANT SOMEBODY WHO’LL
VOTE FOR ME. SO, DO I STILL HAVE A RIGHT? IT ISN’T BECAUSE I WANT
AN IMPARTIAL JURY. I DON’T WANT THEM TAKING OFF
EVERY AFRICAN-AMERICAN ON
MY JURY PANEL. DO I HAVE THAT RIGHT? THE JURY’S SUPPOSED TO BE
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE COMMUNITY
THAT IT COMES FROM. SO IF LITIGANTS CAN ELIMINATE JURORS BASED ON RACE, THEN THE JURY IS NO LONGER
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE COMMUNITY. WE HADN’T BEEN IN THIS PRECISE
AREA BEFORE. AND AT THE END OF THE ARGUMENT,
THE ATTORNEY WHO WAS ARGUING THAT IT WAS WRONG TO EXCLUDE
THE JURORS SAID SOMETHING LIKE, “THIS CASE
ISN’T JUST ABOUT MY CLIENT, “MR. EDMONSON; OR MY
FRIEND’S CLIENT, “THE LEESVILLE CONCRETE COMPANY. “THIS CASE “IS ABOUT TWO MEN WHO ARE
NOT REPRESENTED HERE. “THEIR NAMES ARE WILLIAM COOMBS
AND WILTON SIMMONS. “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT THEIR
EDUCATION WAS “BECAUSE THEY WERE EXCUSED
WITHOUT BEING ASKED ANY
QUESTIONS. “WE DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY
LIVED, WHICH TOWN, “BECAUSE THEY WERE EXCUSED
WITHOUT BEING ASKED ANY
QUESTIONS. “WE DON’T KNOW IF THEY COULD BE FAIR, “WE DON’T KNOW IF THEY COULD
BE IMPARTIAL, “BECAUSE THEY WERE EXCUSED
WITHOUT BEING ASKED ANY
QUESTIONS. “WE DO KNOW… “THAT ON THAT DAY IN 1987, IN JULY, “WHEN THEY WALKED INTO A UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURTROOM, “THEY THOUGHT THINGS HAD
CHANGED. “THEIR FATHERS AND THEIR
GRANDFATHERS, “THEIR MOTHERS AND THEIR
GRANDMOTHERS, “COULD NOT HAVE BEEN ON A JURY.
THEY COULD NOT HAVE VOTED. “BUT FOR THEM TO BE ON A JURY
WAS AS IMPORTANT AS
THE RIGHT TO VOTE. “AND WHEN THEY WALKED INTO
THAT COURTROOM, THEY THOUGHT
THINGS HAD CHANGED. “THEY THOUGHT THERE WAS A
PROMISE THAT THEY WOULD BE
JUDGED BY THE– “NOT THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN,
BUT BY THE CONTENT OF THEIR
CHARACTER. AND WE ASK YOU TO KEEP THAT
PROMISE.” THAT WAS THE ESSENCE OF THE
ARGUMENT. AND THAT, I THINK, PERSUADED
SOME OF THE JUDGES,
SOME OF THE JUSTICES– THAT IT WAS REALLY THE
JURORS’ RIGHT AND THERE WAS A LEGAL PROBLEM
THERE THAT WE HAD TO OVERCOME.

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