Seventh Amendment Facts For Kids
The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted in 1791. It is part of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments.
Amendments 4-8 focus on the rights of people who are suspected of committing a crime or causing damage to others. The Seventh Amendment says that certain civil cases may also be tried by a jury.
Civil cases are non-criminal disputes between two private individuals or organizations.
What does the Seventh Amendment say?
“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.”
A Brief History of the Seventh Amendment
Since the Middle Ages, the English had used juries not trained in law to decide some civil cases. A jury is a group of people that hears evidence and makes a decision on a court case.
There were also some English courts that did not use juries. In these courts, cases were decided by a judge. The judge always sided with the king, so these cases weren’t exactly fair.
After gaining independence, Americans wanted to create a government where this would not happen. They preferred cases ruled on by juries instead of judges.
To prevent judges from siding only with the government, they decided that a jury of local people should decide on most court cases.
The Seventh Amendment guarantees that juries aren’t only for criminal cases. Juries can also decide important civil cases.
It also says that in some cases, federal courts can’t overturn the decision of the jury. Again, the goal was to limit the power of the government and protect the rights of individuals.
So, what is the difference between a criminal case and a civil case?
In a criminal case, someone has been accused of committing a crime, like robbery or murder. If they are found guilty, they my be fined by the court or face jail time. They are being charged by the government.
In a civil case, two private citizens or organizations are involved in a dispute that needs to be resolved by the court. The victim in a civil case sues for “damages” in the form of money being paid to them.
Some examples of civil cases are:
- Settling an argument over who owns land
- Settling an argument between a landlord and a tenant
- A business suing another business for money owed
- An employee suing an employer for unsafe working conditions
- An employee suing an employer for discrimination
- An individual suing because injury was caused due to a faulty product, medical malpractice, a car accident where the other person was at fault, etc.
Lawsuits – Twenty Dollars Minimum
The Seventh Amendment also describes what type of civil cases may be tried by a jury. Back then, the lawsuit had to be more than $20.
At that time, $20 was a lot more than it is today. It was more money than the average worker earned in an entire month. Today, many people earn $20 or more in just one hour.
Since the value of $20 has changed, so has this rule. Now, a dispute must be for more than $75,000 to be tried by a jury in federal court.
Other Interesting Facts About the Seventh Amendment
The Seventh Amendment only applies to federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court does not require states to hold civil jury trials. However, most state constitutions do allow for civil jury trials in certain cases.
The Supreme Court has said that a jury must consist of at least six people, but most juries have 12 jurors.
In a civil case, the person suing is called the “plaintiff.”
Although this amendment allows for civil courts decided by juries, this is not how most civil cases are tried. In fact, less than one percent of the civil cases filed in court are decided by juries.
In a civil case, the two parties involved can choose to settle the dispute on their own at any time. Solving the problem without going to trial is much cheaper for everyone involved.
The United States is one of the only nations that sometimes requires juries in civil cases. Even England and former colonies like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand very rarely hold civil jury trials.