The Jury System
In this lesson, students will learn about a specific aspect of the United States Constitution: the jury system. Learning the origins of the jury system is important in understanding how the Constitution was developed and comprehending how the jury system fulfills dual roles: engaging citizens in their government and ensuring individual liberty.
History: Understands patterns of change and continuity in the historical succession of related events; Understands that specific ideas had an impact on history; Analyzes the influence specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history
Civics: Knows that constitutional government is a fundamental principle of American democracy; Understands the meaning of civic responsibilities as distinguished from personal responsibilities, and understands contemporary issues that involve civic responsibilities; Understands how citizens’ responsibilities as Americans could require the subordination of their personal rights and interests to the public good
Language Arts: Listens in order to understand topic, purpose, and perspective in spoken texts; (Reading) Draws conclusions and makes inferences based on explicit and implicit information in texts
Life Skills: Understands that personal values influence the types of conclusions people make
The Jury System on Trial (PDF), pen/pencil
1. Explain to students that the jury system was very important to the delegates at the Constitutional Convention. Point out how the jury system was explicitly included in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution. Tell students that the jury system was a part of common law in early America, but at times the English monarchy denied the colonists that right. The delegates wanted to be sure the right to a jury trial was guaranteed in the Constitution.
2. Ask students to list things they already know about the jury system. Write their responses on the board. Remind students that the Constitution created the Supreme Court as part of the judicial system, but it did not develop the branch beyond that point. The document called for Congress to create a system of minor courts however it saw fit. Despite this flexibility on the part of the delegates, the Constitution made it clear that, no matter what the judicial branch developed into, “the Trial of all Crimes . . . shall be by Jury.”
3. Ask students to find the Constitutional amendments that mention the jury system. Once they find Amendments VI and VII, ask for volunteers to read each one aloud. Ask students why they think these amendments were added even though the jury system had already been guaranteed in Article III. (Possible answers include: to add more details and safeguards for the jury system, to ensure a fast, public trial for the accused.)
4. Explain to students that jury service is a uniquely democratic way that citizens can get involved in their government. Tell students that citizens serve on a case tried in the community and become an active part of administering justice, a vital function of government. Explain that, if called to do so, it is a citizen’s duty to serve on a jury.
5. Distribute The Jury System on Trial (PDF) worksheet. Inform students that, in this activity, they will be comparing the American jury system to a trial system with a judge only. Instruct students to fill out the table in Part I, listing the pros and cons of each system. Once complete, review the table as a class.7. Next, direct students to Part II of the worksheet. This section will teach them about the process by which jurors are chosen for a case. Tell students that lawyers involved in a case are allowed to ask potential jurors questions before the case starts. The lawyers can then choose the individuals they think will be fair-minded. Instruct students to complete Part II by developing a series of questions they might ask potential jurors. Once they are finished, ask for volunteers to read their questions aloud.
6. Next, direct students to Part II of the worksheet. This section will teach them about the process by which jurors are chosen for a case. Tell students that lawyers involved in a case are allowed to ask potential jurors questions before the case starts. The lawyers can then choose the individuals they think will be fair-minded. Instruct students to complete Part II by developing a series of questions they might ask potential jurors. Once they are finished, ask for volunteers to read their questions aloud.