America’s jury system: We the people

Capt. Javier Rivera
21st Theater Support Command, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate

***image1***Each year since its establishment in 1957 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Americans have celebrated the first of May as Law Day. It is a day to reflect on our great heritage of liberty, justice and democracy.

To facilitate that goal, the American Bar Association, an organization of legal professionals that promotes justice, professional excellence and respect for the law, establishes a particular theme for Law Day. This year it is “The American jury system: We the people in action.”

As servicemembers, we all took an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. Our constitution embodies the principles of a true democratic government and constitutes “the law of the land” in our nation. We have fought many wars defending our constitution and the principles for which it stands.

Now more important than ever, we have a duty with helping spread the seed of democracy around the world. One of the principles we fought for in the Revolutionary War was the right to trial by jury. The Declaration of Independence points out that King George III deprived Americans, “in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury.”

Trial by a jury of one’s peers is a cornerstone of American democracy and is expressly guaranteed in our Bill of Rights in the fifth, sixth and seventh amendments to our constitution.

A jury system is important in a democratic society because it gives equal weight to diverse voices – the system works because everyone on the jury has an equal voice regardless of who they are, what they earn or where they are from. Juries represent the common sense of ordinary people and thus keep the administration of law in accord with the wishes and feelings of the community.

By entrusting jurors from the community to decide legal cases – some of them involving millions of dollars or life and death issues – we reinforce our belief that everyday people can make the right decision, that we are an open, democratic government.

In our own military system, an accused servicemember may chose to have his case decided by a panel of other servicemembers best qualified due to their age, education, training, experience, length of service and judicial temperament. The collective wisdom and judgment of the community is applied in these instances as well.

Therefore, as we celebrate Law Day 2005, let us recognize our Soldiers and Airmen who defend with their lives our constitution and our rights. Let us reflect on the true meaning of the oath we made to defend and uphold our constitution. Let us recognize those who are called upon to take time from their daily lives to fulfill the highest responsibility of citizenship and make our system of justice a reality through their jury service.

The jury system represents “We the people” in action. It is the true balance between the power of the government and the people it governs. To all jurors and servicemembers we say thank you for securing our democracy.