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Federal courts: Right to a jury trial

28 January 2012

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Federal trials: The right to a trial by jury is provided for in the 7th Amendment of the United States Constitution and by other federal statutory law. Specifically, the U.S. Constitution’s 7th Amendment states:

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 reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

This means the Seventh Amendment provides that any party may demand a jury trial when there is more than $20 in controversy. (There is no comparable right to a jury trial for equitable relief.)

Additionally, Rule 38 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that:

On any issue triable of right by a jury, a party may demand a jury trial by:

(1) serving the other parties with a written demand—which may be included in a pleading—no later than 14 days after the last pleading directed to the issue is served; and

(2) filing the demand in accordance with Rule 5(d).

An attorney for a party, or a party himself if pro se, must make a written demand for a jury. If no party makes a demand for a jury, that right is waived. FRCP 38(d).

The demand must state:

…the issues that it wishes to have tried by a jury; otherwise, it is considered to have demanded a jury trial on all the issues so triable. If the party has demanded a jury trial on only some issues, any other party may—within 14 days after being served with the demand or within a shorter time ordered by the court—serve a demand for a jury trial on any other or all factual issues triable by jury.

Jury trials present both pros and cons, depending on the type of case. Federal jury trials usually require a unanimous verdict, even when contemplating civil cases. This can benefit the defense in that a single hung juror can hand the defendant a “win.” Conversely, jurors in emotionally charged cases have been known to award hefty damages to plaintiffs. Ergo, the decision to request a jury trial or not should be made by an erudite, strategic attorney.

Generally speaking, waiving the right to a jury trial should be considered in cases involving an unlikeable client, the need for a speedy resolution, or if the expense and trouble of a trial is not an attractive option.

If you want to exercise your right to a jury trial, you may write “JURY TRIAL DEMANDED” on your Complaint to the right of the caption (header of a pleading), or you may demand one within ten (10) days after the Answer has been served.

For more info:

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

FRCP R. 38

7th Amendment to the United States Constitution

Click here to see an actual example of a federal Complaint filed with a jury demand.

For additional, in-depth analysis–including statistical tables–please see “Jury Demand & Trials” by Joni Hersh, Harvard Law School, JOHN M. OLIN CENTER FOR LAW, ECONOMICS, AND BUSINESS. (This paper provides an empirical economic analysis of jury trial demands and the implications jury trials have on parties’ settlement behavior. The empirical data uses a unique set of almost 4,000 federal cases. It’s somewhat dated, but nonetheless provides some fascinating insight. What can I say? I’m studying statistics.)

If interested, please see my series on discovery:

What is discovery, and what are interrogatories?

What is a discovery subpoena?

Discovery II: What are requests for disclosure?

Discovery III: What are requests for admissions?

Discovery IV: What are requests for production?

Discovery V: Depositions–What is a deposition on written questions, or DWQ?

NOTE: I am not an attorney. This foregoing is not to be considered legal advice. If you need legal advice, consider hiring an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.

Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She is also WestlawNext certified. Sami has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and a ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at


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