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Seventh Amendment

The Seventh Amendment was part of the Bill of Rights that was added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791. This amendment protects the right to a trial by jury in civil court cases.

From the Constitution

Here is the text of the Seventh Amendment from the Constitution:

"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."

Why was this amendment added?

The writers of the Bill of Rights wanted to make sure that the government would not do away with a trial by jury. They were concerned that if trials were only decided by judges, the judges would side with the government, giving the government too much power. This happened to the colonists when judges, who were appointed by the king, would always side with the king. They felt a jury of local people would be more likely to provide a fair trial.

Civil Cases

This amendment refers to non-criminal cases called civil cases. Criminal cases are cases where the government charges someone with a crime such as murder or robbery. If convicted, the person may go to jail or be fined by the court. Civil cases involve disputes between two private citizens or organizations. The victim in a civil case usually sues for "damages" in the form of money.

Examples of civil cases include: Trial by Jury

A trial by jury is when a number of people hear the case and decide together if the defendant is guilty. The amendment doesn't say exactly how many people need to be on a jury. The Supreme Court, however, has said that there needs to be at least six people on a jury. Most juries today in the United States have twelve members. You can learn more about juries in the United States here.

Twenty Dollars?

The amendment states that the lawsuit must be for more than twenty dollars. This was a lot more money in 1791 than it is today. Back then, it was more than a month's wages for the average worker. Today (2014), a dispute must be for over $75,000 to be heard by a federal court.

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