"In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law." (text from U.S. Constitution)
The concept of trial by jury originated in 12th century Britain, where twelve men would be called upon during legal proceedings to provide their insight on cases. From there, the role of the twelve men evolved into that of the final decision maker.
This practice spread to the American colonies, but their use of the jury system wasn't to the crown's liking. King George III quickly instituted a revised justice system, free of juries. This blatant violation of their rights was a reminder to the colonists that government power had to be limited. The Seventh Amendment was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights and preserves a citizen's right to trial by jury.
More from our experts...
By Daniel D. Blinka, UMKC Law Review
"Before leaping headlong into jury trials, however, it is imperative to understand the institutional primacy of pre-Revolutionary Virginia's county courts, which blended political, legal, and social authority."
By William E. Nelson, Ohio State Law Journal
"We care about jury power because it serves as a proxy for a more important issue - the issue of how much power local communities enjoy to live by their own law rather than the law of some central authority."