Friday, June 24, 2016

Two by Lettow Lerner, on Americans' Magna Carta, Trial by Jury and Judical Comment on Evidence

Renee Lettow Lerner, George Washington University Law School, has posted two papers.  The first is The Troublesome Inheritance of Americans in Magna Carta and Trial by Jury, in Magna Carta and its Modern Legacy, ed. Robert Hazell and James Melton (Cambridge University Press 2015), 77-98:
Many Americans insisted on their traditional rights as Englishmen in the conflict with Britain before and after declaring independence. Magna Carta — particularly the provisions concerning the “law of the land” and “judgment of his peers” — embodied fundamental rights of Englishmen that American revolutionaries were willing to fight to protect. As Edward Coke had found more than a century before, American revolutionaries understood that invoking such an ancient document inspired resistance to authority.

Americans cherished Magna Carta most because of its association with jury trial. Juries had proved useful to Americans in their conflict with Britain. Colonial American juries had nullified the law of seditious libel, customs taxes, and debts to British merchants. It was no wonder Americans held the jury in high esteem, at least until they had to run their own governments. Americans filled their constitutions, both federal and state, with rights to jury trial. Several American states even included translations of provisions from Magna Carta in their constitutions, enshrining the “judgment of his peers.” Once Americans had achieved independence and formed the new republics, judges faced the task of interpreting these thirteenth-century provisions as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century law. American judges quoted Blackstone and historical treatises. Through the nineteenth century, however, American enthusiasm for juries waned. The much-repeated phrases from Magna Carta became a flimsy screen, masking the steady decline of jury power.
The second is How the Creation of Appellate Courts in England and the United States Limited Judicial Comment on Evidence to the Jury, which appears in the Journal of the Legal Profession 40 (2016): 215-69:
Isaac Parker (wiki)
The practice of judicial comment on the evidence has traditionally been the main form of jury control. Previous scholarly work has focused on the loss of the power in state courts, and has attributed the decline of judicial comment to a strict separation of functions between judge and jury and to regional differences in legal culture. This article examines two jurisdictions in which the power of comment long remained strong, at least in theory: the High Court of England, with its predecessors, and the federal courts in the United States. In both jurisdictions, judicial power to comment has been limited and in practice reduced, in the federal courts severely. The article reveals that this limitation developed with the advent of courts of appeal with separate personnel and especially of appeals in criminal cases.

Lack of appeal, or limited appeal, has been a distinctive trait of common law systems, particularly in criminal cases. There was no appeal as of right in criminal cases until 1907 in England, and 1889 in the federal courts. In the federal system, the early movements to allow appeals in criminal cases and to limit judicial comment on evidence focused on controlling a particular judge: Isaac Parker, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, who presided over more than 100 trials for capital crimes occurring in the Indian Territory from 1875 to 1896.

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