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The Value of a Jury System The Founders of our nation understood that no idea was more central to our Bill of Rights -- indeed to government of the people by the people and for the people -- than the citizen jury It was cherished not only as a bulwark against tyranny but also as an essential means of educating Americans in the habits and duties of citizenship By enacting the Fifth Sixth and Seventh Amendments to the Constitution the Framers sought to install the right to trial by jury as a cornerstone of a free society The Framers of the Constitution felt that juries -- because they were composed of ordinary citizens and because they owed no financial allegiance to the government -- were indispensable to thwarting the excesses of powerful and overzealous government officials The jury trial was the only right explicitly included in each of the state constitutions devised between 1776 and 1789 And the criminal jury was one of few rights explicitly mentioned in the original federal constitution proposed by the Philadelphia Convention Anti-federalists complained that the proposed constitution did not go far enough in protecting juries and federalists eventually responded by enacting three constitutional amendments guaranteeing grand petit and civil juries The need for juries was especially acute in criminal cases A grand jury could block any prosecution it deemed unfounded or malicious and a petit jury could likewise interpose itself on behalf of a defendant charged unfairly The famous Zenger case in the 1730s dramatized the libertarian advantages of juries When New Yorks royal government sought to stifle its newspaper critics through criminal prosecution New York grand juries refused to indict and a petit jury famously refused to convict But the Founders vision of the jury went far beyond merely protecting defendants The jurys democratic role was intertwined with other ideas enshrined in the Bill of Rights including free speech and citizen
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