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Article III Jurisdiction

Trial by an Impartial Jury of One's Peers

Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution for the united States of America, provides that crimes must be tried before an impartial jury of one's peers.

If you are not in an Article 3 court then you are not being charged with an actual "crime."

Article 3 courts are the ONLY courts designated in the Constitution to deal with Constitutional questions and issues by language.

Therefore, we ALWAYS challenge the jurisdiction of the court because no court has jurisdiction over a human being, the courts ONLY have jurisdiction over corporations, corporate fictions, and employees of the government.


[BACKGROUND]

Among all abuses of governmental power, we may fear the secret trial most. Trial by jury guards against this practice, and for this reason juries have long occupied an important place in our understanding of individual human rights. English colonists identified trial by jury as one of the three rights central to their definition of liberty; the other two were Due Process of Law and representative government. A local jury chosen from one's peers, or equals, guarded against vindictive and overbearing judges and distant government. Jurors from the neighborhood came to their task with knowledge about the events on trial and about the reputation of the accused and accuser. Their general verdict -- a simple reply of guilty or not guilty to a charge of wrongdoing -- was the people's most effective weapon against tyranny. The jury, quite simply, was the best available method of assuring justice and protecting liberty.

The struggle for independence convinced Americans that their confidence in the jury was not misplaced. The most troublesome actions of Great Britain centered on attempts to limit the use of trial by impartial jury of one's peers in cases involving colonial protests against imperial laws. One of the provisions of the Stamp Act of 1765, for example, shifted trials of alleged violators to a court where a judge alone decided guilt or innocence; in 1774, another parliamentary statute denied the right to a trial by a jury from the neighborhood. To many colonists, these actions, when considered with other threats to liberty, were sufficient to justify separation from the mother country.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights testify to the importance the framers placed on trial by a local impartial jury of one's peers. Article 3, which outlines the functions of the judiciary, requires that the "Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed." The guarantee of this right appears twice more in the Bill of Rights. The Sixth Amendment defines the right more extensively: "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." The Seventh Amendment extends this right to civil cases, that is, noncriminal cases such as disputes over contracts, in which the amount in dispute is more than twenty dollars, a figure that has not changed over time even though a dollar was worth much more then. These amendments spelled out carefully the founders' criteria for fair trials: they must be speedy and public; the jury must be local; and jurors must be impartial. Underlying these criteria was a belief that justice in a republic depended upon the active involvement of virtuous citizens in the public affairs of a community. Juries were a means to this end.

The nineteenth century witnessed a decline in the jury's role in both civil and criminal trials, even though commentators continued to laud its virtues. In theory, jurors were considered to be the judges of both law and fact, which meant they not only determined what the facts of a case were but also decided how to interpret the law. This practice was an old one that reflected the belief that, "Justice requires jurors to use their local knowledge to fit the law to the circumstances of their communities." For instance, a statute may forbid trespass on private property, but if it was long-standing practice in an area to cut across a field, then a local jury would know this and refuse to convict a person who simply was doing what everyone else did. But the nineteenth century witnessed a change in the jury's role: jurors could determine the facts, but they had to accept the law as interpreted by the judge. Civil juries, which decided noncriminal cases, especially felt this restriction because commerce required standards that did not vary from place to place. The goal was consistent and equal application of the law, an unlikely result if civil and criminal juries were free to determine in each case what the law meant.

Other changes affected the criminal jury primarily. In a pattern that continues today, many criminal prosecutions never reached trial. Plea bargaining and negotiated punishments became the typical way of managing the increase in crime that resulted from overcrowded cities. Citizens began to avoid jury duty, aided by state laws that excused entire groups, usually business and professional men, from this civic duty. (Women were not eligible for jury duty because they could not vote; also, some men considered them "too delicate" for this task.) Soon, juries were thought to be composed primarily of the least virtuous citizens rather than pillars of the community. By the end of the century, trial by jury was still praised formally as a bulwark against tyranny, but increasingly it was satirized in practice, as evidenced by Mark Twain's characterization that it, "put a ban on intelligence and honesty, and a premium on ignorance, stupidity and perjury."

Despite this history, most Americans continued to believe that the right to a speedy public trial by an impartial jury of peers was a bedrock principle of American freedom. They were buoyed in this conviction by laws and court decisions, most of them in the twentieth century, that broadened the jury pool to include blacks and women, making juries, in theory, more representative of the community than ever. But with the rise of highly competitive mass media since the 1950s, a different issue has claimed our attention: does extensive media coverage undermine the constitutional promise of an impartial jury? Consider the 1995 trial of African American former football star and Hollywood celebrity O. J. Simpson, who was accused of killing his ex-wife and another man. For months, Americans watched as a drama of sex, race, and violence played itself out on national television. Simpson's acquittal divided the nation into racial camps, with blacks generally applauding the jury's decision and many whites condemning it. Commentators wondered whether juries were capable of reaching an objective verdict in a case so heavily promoted by Court TV and 24-hour news channels. Perhaps, they suggested, we should try such cases before judges alone.

"The great value of the trial by jury certainly consists in its fairness and impartiality. Those who most prize the institution, prize it because it furnishes a tribunal which may be expected to be uninfluenced by an undue bias of the mind." -- Chief Justice John Marshall, United States v. Burr (1807)
Juries have unique roles in protecting our rights. No other institution of government places so much power -- the power literally to decide issues of life and freedom -- directly in the hands of average citizens. Juries by definition require government to prove guilt before taking away life, liberty, or property. Although rarely done, jurors can refuse to convict a defendant when they believe the law is wrong or when they believe following the law will lead to a greater injustice, such as when antebellum northern juries refused to send runaway slaves back to their masters despite the law's command. The acceptance of this practice, often called Jury Nullification, predates the Constitution. An American jury's refusal to follow the British government's instructions to convict printer John Peter Zenger of libel (after he had published criticisms of New York's colonial governor) was evidence to America's founders that this institution protected liberty even when it disobeyed the law. We have faith in such jury power for a variety of reasons: we trust the judgment of twelve members of the community over that of a single judge; juries exercise limited power, operating only in one case; and verdicts are subject to review on matters of law. We also believe jurors will be true to their oath to follow the law as they understand it. The jury is among our most democratic institutions, especially now that we insist that its membership be as diverse as our pluralistic society, a true cross section of the population. Also, jury service is the primary way most of us participate directly in government. Open to all adult citizens, the jury embodies a belief that each of us is equally competent to do justice.

Ironically, some observers believe this recent democratization of the jury has not solved its problems but only made them worse. Critics of the jury system argue that juries make decisions based on emotion, prejudice, and sympathy rather than law and evidence. They believe modern cases, especially complex civil lawsuits, are too technical for lay people to understand; in medical cases, for instance, they fear juries will award extraordinary damage awards for negligence or error that make the practice of medicine even more expensive. Insurance companies often make this complaint; patients who have been harmed by negligent acts hold an opposite view. Other critics worry about the ability of jurors to ignore the laws of democratically passed legislatures, which, they charge, makes the jury itself a lawless institution. They are also concerned that too much emphasis on ethnically balanced juries results either in deadlocked panels or different standards of justice for different groups. For these reasons and more, we hear periodic calls to reform or abolish the jury system.

Research on juries allays most of these concerns and strengthens our faith in this institution. Overall, jurors are competent and effective. They listen carefully and take seriously the charge not to discuss the evidence or reach a decision until the judge passes the case to them for deliberation and a verdict. They do not rush to judgment; instead, they reach a verdict through analysis of the evidence, not as experts but by judging its trustworthiness with common sense. They seek to persuade each other but also are open to persuasion. They do not reach perfect verdicts but, on the whole, they act as we hope and expect them to act -- deliberately and fairly.

Ultimately, the jury's impartiality does not rest upon its ignorance or its superior knowledge; guided by careful judicial instructions, it stems instead from experiences that differ from juror to juror, thereby reflecting the variety of circumstances and opinions we find in real life. Jurors bring their prejudices into the jury room because they cannot do otherwise, but their deliberations, when conducted honestly, expose these prejudices, test them, and allow jurors to set them aside in an effort to be fair. Miscarriages of justice still occur, yet most often juries try to meet the constitutional test of fairness. In doing so, they help to realize the promise of the Bill of Rights and affirm Thomas Jefferson's belief that trial by impartial jury of one's peers is the "only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which government can be held to the principles of its Constitution."