Right to a Civil Jury under California Law vs. Federal Law

Wrongful Death Cases
Wrongful Death Attorney

In California, both federal and state laws may apply when it comes to wrongful death cases. Parties in litigation have the right to a civil jury when a case has arisen at common law, and when statute provides a jury. Neither cases at equity, nor those without common law analogy, etc.) require a jury under either system.

The federal legal system assigns more importance to the right to a jury, owing to a peculiarity in how Federal Constitutional Law evolved. This right is included in the Bill of Rights, which was sanctioned in 1791, and initially restricted the federal government alone. At the onset, there was no guarantee of individual states being bound in this regard. Following the Civil War and the ratification of the 14th Amendment, Bill of Rights protections were incorporated by the Supreme Court, and applied against all states. However, these do not include the right to having a civil jury preside over your case. In many circumstances, California courts have a lot of room to exclude juries altogether.

When a lawsuit comes to federal court, and concerns both common law claims and equitable claims, the court is not allowed to decide the latter in a way that limits the former. Legal claims will first need to be presented to the jury, and the judge decides the remaining claims. When an equitable issue infringes on a jury-triable claim, the judge is not allowed to decide the former. This system holds the right to a jury remains as an overriding interest.

California case law has the opposite goal, and holds a strong preference for placing equitable claims in trial to a judge, before a jury has chance to preside. Efficiency is the main objective here. After an equitable cause of action has been decided, the judge then moves on to decide issues that overlie jury-triable claims. This is something they can do which a federal judge cannot, and it often narrows or eliminates issues, which would otherwise have passed to the jury.

Even something as apparently trivial as failing to announce a jury requirement can deprive you of the chance to achieve maximum compensation. Having a competent wrongful death attorney on your side can be instrumental in ensuring you do not accidentally waive your right to a jury in a civil action.

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