Lesson 2: The Jury System
In this lesson, students will learn about the jury system. Its origins are important to understanding how the Constitution was developed and comprehending how the jury system fulfills dual roles: engaging citizens in their government and ensuring individual liberty. Students should understand the ongoing balance between the common good and individual freedom.
Students should be able to distinguish the differences between public or civil responsibilities from personal responsibilities, and be able to analyze the importance and connections between the two. Students should examine and understand contemporary issues that involve civic responsibilities, and those that involve personal responsibility.
In this lesson, students identify pros and cons of jury trials and judge-only trials, plus develop and respond to questions that might help to ensure the selection of a fair and unbiased jury.
Write the question below on the board. Explain that the lesson activities are geared to help students explore and then respond to this question later during the Lesson Wrap-up.
Skills Supporting Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and History/Social Studies:
- Identify key ideas and inferences along with text support
- Determine the central idea
- Provide a summary
- Analyze examples
- Determine the meanings of words
- Analyze structure and organization
- Organize ideas in tables or charts
- Write responses based on research
- Participate in group discussions
- Follow rules for discussions, set goals and deadlines, and define role
- Pose and respond to questions
- Review ideas from more than one perspective
- Present claims and findings
- Adapt speech to fit the context of a task
40 to 45 minutes for the main activities
- The Jury System on Trial Reproducible
- Internet access
- copy of the U.S. Constitution: www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html or www.constitution.org/constit_.htm
- copy of the Bill of Rights: archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html
Activity Directions (Part 1):
• Introduce the history of the jury system by telling 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. Ask students:
Help students connect the treatment of the colonists by the English monarchy with the framers’ responses in drawing up the Constitution and, in particular, the inclusion of the jury system and the right to a jury trial.
• Have students develop a diagram that shows how the jury system came to be by drawing and labeling one section at a time on the board as students identify how the jury system developed, according to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Follow these three steps:
2. Have students expand their review of Article III to also discover that Congress was asked to create a system of minor courts, however it saw fit. Explain what minor courts are and their responsibilities. Through discussion, make sure that students can distinguish the differences between the Supreme Court and all other courts. Then have them tell you how to show the Article III instructions for the Supreme Court and minor courts in a diagram on the board.
3. Emphasize that 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.” Reinforce that the jury decision will not be overturned unless the proceedings are found to have contained a legal error. Have the students identify key steps in the Article III text description of the process of trial by jury. Then using the text of the Sixth and Seventh Amendments in the Bill of Rights, have students suggest how to complete the diagram with the addition of criminal and civil trials in which juries participate.
• Finish this part of the activity by reviewing with students Key Ideas and Details regarding these amendments, breaking down the concepts and why they are crucial to the Constitution’s protection of the individual. (These amendments, among others, will be carefully analyzed several times throughout the program’s nine lessons.)
Activity Directions (Part 2):
• Introduce the concept of jury duty and its unique function in a democracy by asking the students to imagine that they are of age and have been called to serve as jurors. With their knowledge of the Bill of Rights, especially the Seventh Amendment, ask them to respond to the following question:
Emphasize that a jury trial is a vital function of government and democracy. Explain that if called, a citizen must fulfill his or her duty to serve on a jury.
• Distribute The Jury System on Trial Reproducible and direct students to Part II. This section will help students experience how lawyers involved in a case question potential jurors and how jurors must examine their own beliefs and prejudices in order to tell the truth in the jury process. Instruct the students to complete Part II by developing a series of questions they might ask potential jurors. Separate the students into sections, with each section comprising two groups. Have one group work as a team of lawyers, and the other as a team of potential jurors. The team of lawyers should ask each potential juror the same three questions. Instruct the lawyers to pick the jurors they would choose, and list their reasons for each selection. Ask the juror students to say why they answered the way they did. When the class reconvenes, have the groups present their findings. Conclude with a discussion in which students explain how this process can affect the composition (who is picked) of a jury.
Wrap-up With the Essential Question
Return to the Essential Question that was written on the board at the beginning of the lesson.
Open a discussion in which students respond to this question, based on their class experience. Encourage students to support their responses with text and details from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Have students read the instructions and complete Part 1 of The Jury System on Trial Reproducible, which focuses on the differences between a trial in which there is a jury and a trial in which there is only a judge. Tell students that this assignment requires not only some research from a website or book, but also citing those resources as part of the completed table. When the assignment is due, review the table and ask students to cite the sources used for some of their answers. After students share some pros and cons, examine different scenarios in which one kind of trial would work differently than the other.