Getting Away With Murder
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, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
—U.S. Constitution, Sixth Amendment
Trial by a jury of one’s peers is a venerable institution. Like Blackstone before him in England, the American Joseph Story, in his justly famous Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), traced it back to 1215 and Magna Carta, and, again like Blackstone, proceeded to quote the relevant passages from the original Latin: “nisi per legale judicium parium suorum, vel per legem terrae,” and all that. “When,” he continued, “our more immediate ancestors removed to America, they brought this great privilege with them, as their birthright and inheritance.” Especially valuable in criminal trials, the jury system had a great object: “To guard against a spirit of oppression and tyranny on the part of rulers, and against a spirit of violence and invictiveness on the part of the people.”
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