Authority for Jury Trial

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Authority for Jury Trial

Postby Administrator » Tue Oct 04, 2005 10:38 am

Authority for Jury Trial

The right to an impartial jury trial in civil cases is inherent in the Seventh Amendment’s preservation of a “right to trial by jury” and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that “no person shall be denied life, liberty or property without due process.” McCoy v. Goldston, 652 F.2d 654, 657 [6th Cir.1981]; Hernandez v. City of Hartford, 959 F.Supp. 125, 134 [U.S.D.C. Conn.1997] [The 7th Amendment protected the plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury].

The trial of all crimes, except impeachments, shall be by jury. U.S.C.A.Const. art. 3, § 2, cl. 3.

Contempt proceedings are also an exception. Fed.R.Crim.Proc. 42[b]. 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. U.S.C.A. Const. Amend. VI. Impartiality as a principle of the right to trial by jury is served not only by the Sixth Amendment, which is as applicable to the States as to the Federal Government, but as well by the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth, and perhaps the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the Court's supervisory power has been directed to the issue in the federal system. Prior to the Court's extension of a right to jury trials in state courts, it was firmly established that if a State chose to provide juries they must be impartial ones. Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717 [1961]; Turner v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 466 [1965]; Parker v. Gladden, 385 U.S. 363 [1966]; Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 [1968]; Gonzales v. Beto, 405 U.S. 1052 [1972]. Thus, for example, it violates the Equal Protection Clause to exclude African Americans from grand and petit juries, Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 [1880]; Alexander v. Louisiana, 405 U.S. 625 [1972], whether defendant is or is not an African American, Peters v. Kiff, 407 U.S. 493 [1972], and exclusion of potential jurors because of their national ancestry is unconstitutional, at least where defendant is of that ancestry as well, Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 [1954]; Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482 [1977].

In the exercise of its supervisory power over the federal courts, the Court has permitted any defendant to challenge the arbitrary exclusion from jury service of his own or any other class. Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 83 -87 [1942]; Thiel v. Southern Pacific Co., 328 U.S. 217, 220 [1946]; Ballard v. United States, 329 U.S. 187 [1946]. In Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 [1975], and Duren v. Missouri, 439 U.S. 357 [1979], male defendants were permitted to challenge the exclusion of women as a Sixth Amendment violation.

Louisiana affords felony criminal defendants a right to trial by jury. Further, the accused shall have a right to full voir dire examination of prospective jurors and to challenge jurors peremptorily. The number of challenges shall be fixed by law. Further, every person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to a speedy, public, and impartial trial in the parish where the offense or an element of the offense occurred, unless venue is changed in accordance with law. La. Const. 1974, Art. I, sections 16 and 17.

A party in most civil actions involving a principal demand of more than $50,000 is entitled to a trial by jury. La.C.C.P. art. 1732. Of course, a plaintiff can stipulate that his/her claim is less than $50,000 and avoid a jury trial. La.C.C.P. art. 1732[1]; McCarter v. Sanchez, 874 So.2d 918 [La. App. 4 Cir. 4/28/04]. In such cases, the limitation on damages is “self-imposed” by the plaintiff and plaintiff cannot recover a principal sum in excess of that stipulated cap of $50,000. Wallace v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 821 So.2d 704, 36,099 [La. App. 2 Cir. 6/14/02].

Unlike in criminal matters, there is no constitutional right to trial by jury in a civil case in Louisiana courts. Spencer v. State ex rel. Dept. of Transp. and Development, --- So.2d —, 2004 WestLaw 1789590 [La. App. 1 Cir. 2004]; Riddle v. Bickford, 785 So.2d 795, 799 [La. 2001]. The right to jury trials in civil cases is not so fundamental to the American system of justice as to be required of state courts by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Blanchard v. City Parish of East Baton Rouge, 674 So.2d 317, 320 [La. App. 1 Cir. 1996], writ denied, 679 So.2d 443.[La. 1996]. However, the right to a trial by jury in a civil case is a basic right and should be protected in the absence of specific authority for its denial. Champagne v. American Southern Ins. Co., 295 So.2d 437, 440 [La.1974]. When a party makes a timely request and complies with the other procedural requisites, his right to a jury trial cannot be violated. Blanchard v. City Parish of East Baton Rouge, 674 So.2d 317, 325 [La. App. 1 Cir. 1996], writ denied, 679 So.2d 443.[La. 1996]. The right to a jury trial is favored in the law and any doubtful statutory provision should be liberally construed in favor of granting a jury trial. Brewton v. Underwriters Ins. Co., 848 So.2d 586, 589 [La. 2003].

When a jury trial is permitted, it requires the jury to decide the contested issues unless the parties stipulate that the jury trial shall be as to certain issues only or unless the right to trial by jury as to certain issues does not exist. Id.

Note that contractual jury waivers are enforceable in Texas. In re Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota N.A., 115 S.W.3d 600 [Tex.App.-Houston [14 Dist.] 2003]. The federal system applies federal law on the issue of contractual waivers of the right to a jury trial. The Fifth Circuit has noted, "[t]he right of jury trial is fundamental, [and] courts [must] indulge every reasonable presumption against waiver." Jennings v. McCormick, 154 F.3d 542, 545 [5th Cir.1998]; McDonald v. Steward, 132 F.3d 225, 229 [5th Cir.1998]. Also see Smith v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., 2004 WestLaw 515769, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d [U.S.D.C. E.D. La. 2004]. At least one Louisiana state court of appeal has upheld enforcement of contractual jury waiver when the party was an experienced business person. Cook v. Hibernia Nat. Bank, 847 So. 2d 617 [La. App. 4 Cir. 2002]. Also see 42 A.L.R.5th 53, Contractual Jury Trial Waivers in State Civil Cases.

In Texas state court, a jury trial is available in most civil cases and Texas law does not share the limitations imposed by Louisiana law. Tex. Const. art. I, §15; Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 216 [Tex.R.Civ.P. 216] [adopted by the Texas Supreme Court under its rule-making authority]. To invoke the right to a trial by jury in a civil case, a party must first comply with the requirements of Rule 216[a] provides: "No jury trial shall be had in any civil suit unless a written request for a jury trial is filed with the clerk of the court a reasonable time before the date set for trial of the cause on the non-jury docket, but not less than thirty days in advance." The Texas Constitution implies that the right to a jury trial can be waived by providing "no jury shall be empaneled in any civil case unless demanded by a party to the case, and a jury fee be paid by the party demanding a jury." Tex. Const. art. V, §10. The fee also must be paid within the same thirty-day deadline. Tex.R.Civ.P. 216[b]; Huddle v. Huddle, 696 S.W.2d 895, 895 [Tex.1985] [op. on rehearing].

In the absence of a timely request or payment of the fee, it is within the trial court's discretion to deny a jury trial. Martin v. Black, 909 S.W.2d 192, 197 [Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1995, writ denied]. A late jury request should be granted if: [1] to grant the jury trial would not cause injury to the adverse party through postponement of the trial or otherwise, and [2] to grant the jury trial would not disrupt the court's docket or interfere with the handling of the court's business. Ferguson v. DRG/Colony North, Ltd., 764 S.W.2d 874, 881 [Tex.App.-Austin 1989, writ denied].

In Texas criminal cases, the right to trial by jury remains inviolate. Tex.C.Cr.P. art. 1.12.

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