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Justice by the People

Jury System Lesson Plans

Lesson 8: Participating in the Jury System



Students will participate in activities and discussions about the relationship of a democratic society to its legal institutions, and the issues of fairness and equality under the law and legal system. They will discover how constitutional amendments such as the Fourteenth Amendment influence lawsuits, and they will apply concepts within the Bill of Rights to jury trials. When students compare trial systems from other countries to our own, the U.S. jury system stands out as unique—and uniquely fair. After interviewing an adult who has served as a juror, students will write an essay in which they explain why participation in the jury system is important in a democratic society.

Along with the main activities and lesson extensions, students conduct research to compare the U.S. jury trial system to trial systems in other countries, such as those not presented on a student reproducible. They also find out about rules for juror eligibility and exemption.

Essential Question:
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.

How do the amendments to the Constitution support and guide the participation of jurors in trials?

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
  • Trace and evaluate arguments 
  • Write arguments with support
  • Organize reasons and evidence in written arguments
  • Write with clarity
  • Write conclusions to support arguments
  • Write to inform or explain
  • Use appropriate and precise language
  • Write responses based on research
  • Use and correctly cite information from multiple sources
  • Prepare for discussions
  • Follow rules for discussions, set goals and deadlines, and define role
  • Pose and respond to questions
Lesson Duration:
45 minutes for the main activity; 30 minutes for Lesson Extension 1; 15 minutes for Lesson Extension 2



Activity Directions (Part 1):
• Introduce the Fourteenth Amendment by asking students to imagine that they are members of Congress in 1868; it is just after the Civil War, and they are about to hear, for the first time, a new amendment proposed for the Constitution. Have a printed or online copy of the Fourteenth Amendment available (see Materials for document link). Ask a student volunteer to read aloud Section 1. The volunteer, along with the rest of the class, should ask questions about unfamiliar vocabulary to ensure their understanding of the amendment’s provisions. Then have students respond to the following questions:

Would you lean toward supporting or rejecting the amendment in 1868, based on your first impressions of the text? Why or why not?

Follow up by explaining that this amendment defines what it means to be a U.S. citizen and have the rights of a U.S. citizen. Point out the history of this amendment by explaining that it was adopted on July 9, 1868, and is one of the Reconstruction Amendments, addressing citizenship rights and protections in response to the Civil War and the end of slavery in America.

• Explain to students that the word clause refers to an idea communicated in a phrase, sentence, or paragraph in an amendment. Tell students that there are three key clauses in this section that express ideas as important today as they were when the amendment was written in 1868. Have another volunteer read aloud Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment again. Instruct the volunteer to read slowly and to pause when listeners raise their hands. The raising of hands signals when listeners identify an idea, or clause, in the amendment that has been described. Have students identify the key words and meaning in each clause. On the board, write the clauses identified, as follows: (1) the Citizenship Clause, (2) the Due Process Clause, and (3) the Equal Protection Clause.   

• Provide students with some background for each of the three clauses, as follows:  
1. Citizenship: This gives individuals born in the United States the right to citizenship. In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed African-Americans the right to citizenship. Before the Fourteenth Amendment, African-Americans could not become citizens, even those who had escaped slavery to freedom outside the Southern states. The Fourteenth Amendment allows for anyone who is born in the United States to be a U.S. citizen. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1866 allowed for African-American citizenship, it was the Fourteenth Amendment that made the law permanent. This was necessary as it was feared that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 could be overturned and threaten the citizenship rights of African-Americans. Eventually, the Supreme Court went on to protect this right for the children of immigrants and Native Americans, so their citizenship rights are also protected under the Constitution.

Once an individual has become an American citizen, that citizenship cannot be taken away from them by anyone—not by the police, not by Congress, not by the Supreme Court.

2. Due Process: This protects the First Amendment rights of the people and prevents those rights from being taken away from anyone without “due process.” Due process is a trial by jury for anyone accused of wrongdoing. Although it would seem that the First Amendment already protects these rights, the Fourteenth Amendment ensures that all the states adhere to the Bill of Rights, and prevents the states from limiting someone’s rights without fairness. This also protects the rights of someone who is accused of a crime but has not been convicted of it yet.

3. Equal Protection: This means that a state can’t deny any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws. The federal government enforces this protection on the states, which ensures that the states cannot discriminate. Keep in mind that the Bill of Rights protects some rights. This equal protection clause covers this right through the state governments as well as the federal government. It was this clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that would be used by the civil rights movement in the 20th Century to end segregation and discrimination in the South.
• To follow up on their first impressions of the amendment, have students evaluate if what they learned about the three key clauses would have affected a final vote to ratify or reject the Fourteenth Amendment—that is, serving as members of the 1868 Congress.  

Activity Directions (Part 2):
• Have students work in small groups to connect the jury trial system with the rights and freedoms of Americans. Have each group refer to the Bill of Rights in print or online (see Materials for the document link). Referring to the text of the Bill of Rights, have group members name some of the rights and freedoms afforded to citizens of the United States (for instance: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, the right to trial by jury, and so on).  

• For the full class, have groups take turns naming a freedom and right that the group discussed. Make sure the right to a trial by jury as provided for in the Sixth and Seventh Amendments to the United States Constitution has been named. Then call on volunteers from the groups to answer this follow-up question:

Why is trial by jury an important right? (For example: peers of the accused decide cases; impartial parties hear cases; a group of citizens must weigh the evidence and agree on a verdict.)

• Once again, have the groups conduct their own discussion to explore the responsibilities that go along with the rights and freedoms of citizens (for example: voting, assembling peacefully, political dissent, etc.). Ask each group to discuss the following two questions:  

Do you think serving on a jury is a civic responsibility? If so, why?

What might happen if people did not serve on juries?

Visit among the groups to check understanding and answer any questions students might have. For the last question, make sure each group understands that if citizens did not serve on juries, the quality of jurors would diminish, and the right to trial by jury could dissolve.

• Conclude the activity by distributing the Jury Duty Reproducible. Ask groups to read the “Trials in Other Countries” section and compare those systems with ways in which the U.S. jury system works. Tell students to hold on to this sheet, as it is central to an out-of-class project you will assign.

Lesson Extensions Alert: (1) To allow student groups to work in greater depth on comparing the trial systems of other countries to the unique U.S. trial jury system, see Lesson Extension 1. (2) To provide students with additional information about juror eligibility, see Lesson Extension 2.
Wrap-up With the Essential Question
Return to the Essential Question that was written on the board at the beginning of the lesson.

How do the amendments to the Constitution support and guide the participation of jurors in trials?

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 Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights.

Use the Jury Duty Reproducible that you distributed in class. Have students read the directions to Part 1 and discuss with two other classmates what adult each student might be able to interview who has served as a juror. If all three students in the group can interview the same adult in one sitting, encourage the group interview. If the logistics are too difficult for all three students to interview the same adult in one sitting, have students use the group to discuss which adult might be best for each group member to select. Confirm each group’s selection(s) for this out-of-class interview. Remind every student to record the responses of the person they interview, since those responses will be helpful when completing Part 2 on their own. For Part 2, students should state their main ideas about the American judicial system and support those ideas with details from the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment.

Lesson Extensions:
(1) After groups have read the “Trials in Other Countries” section on the Jury Duty Reproducible, have them go on the Internet or visit the library to find out about additional countries and their trial systems. Writing with a computer or on a sheet of paper, have groups cite the sources they found and write a brief paragraph about each trial system they read about, using the descriptions from “Trials in Other Countries” on the Jury Duty Reproducible as a model. Ask the groups to report their findings to the class. Along with their written findings, have the groups compare the trial systems of countries they report on to the jury system in the United States, especially in terms of fairness.  

(2) In addition to constitutional amendments that guide the process of a jury trial, rules for eligibility determine who can and cannot serve on a jury. Let students know that jurors must:

  • be citizens of the United States
  • be at least 18 years of age
  • reside primarily in the judicial district for at least one year
  • be able to read, write, speak, and understand the English language
  • be mentally and physically capable of rendering jury service
  • not have felony charges pending against them
  • not have felony convictions (unless civil rights have been legally restored)
Also inform students that the following groups are exempt from jury service:
  • members of the armed forces on active duty
  • members of professional fire and police departments
  • “public officers” of federal, state, or local governments who are actively engaged in the performance of public duties
Have students discuss the reasons behind the eligibility rules and the group exemptions. Ask the following question:

How do you think these rules support or prevent a fair trial?

Finally, point out to students that potential jurors are randomly selected from voter registration lists and sometimes driver’s license lists. They receive a questionnaire and fill it out to determine their eligibility for jury service.
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