Tag Archive for: trial

Your Right to a Jury – Should you Demand One

Jury Trial

I know I’ve discussed whether you should seek a jury trial before, but I want to give it a new look for this set of videos. In my view, debt defendants should always ask for jury trials if they have the right to them, and most of them do have that right.

Your Right under the Constitution

Under constitutional law, you have a right to jury trial under the 7th amendment for most “legal” claims. “Legal” in this sense is a term of art referring to the historical development of the English courts. Suffice it to say that most claims “sounding in” breach of contract are “legal” claims. Account stated, on the other hand, is not, so if the credit card company is suing you ONLY for account stated, you probably don’t have a right to jury trial, but for almost all other credit card or loan based claims you do. And if the plaintiff is suing you for breach of contract and account stated, you will have a right to jury trial that will, in all likelihood, control the whole case.

So most of the people watching this video or reading this article will have a right to jury trial. Should you take it?

I think yes for a couple of reasons.

Judges and Lawyers Take Jury Trials More Seriously

The primary reason is that judges and the other side will take jury trials more seriously. This means that the judge will be much more careful about what kinds of evidence to allow the jury to see, and since that is the heart of much of our defense, this is a very good thing. It isn’t that a judge should allow hearsay to affect his or her decision, it’s that the judge will pay much closer attention to your argument that something IS hearsay if he or she is worried about a jury hearing it. It’s just a more serious kind of case.

And the second reason is that it IS a more serious kind of case. Although a judge-held trial could last half an hour, a jury trial will be measured in hours or possibly days if there are any complications. That’s because the jury has to be selected, as much as anything, and that takes time. The difference in cost of attorney time could easily be a thousand dollars, and debt collectors don’t like to put that kind of money into cases like this. It’s just the way they do business, not that they fear them or anything.

Jury Trials are NOT Scary

But should you fear them?

It might sound like a jury trial is a bigger deal for a shy or intimidated person, and it is true that they are somewhat more complicated, and you’re playing to people in the jury rather than just the judge. But although that’s true, you will probably find, in real life, that it doesn’t matter. Juries are just as easy to talk to as judges, and if you’re caught up in your case it’s probably even easier to talk to the jury. They’re much more like you than the judge is.

There are factors you’ll need to consider as you prepare for the case, but in making your decision on whether or not to demand a jury that’s probably all you need to know. The judge will be more serious, the defendant will like the case less, and the jury will be easier to talk to than the judge. In general. So we suggest you ask for a jury trial. Find out your court’s rules on asking for one before you file your answer if that is possible.

Your Right to a Jury Trial in Debt Litigation

Your Right to a Jury Trial in Debt Litigation

Under the Seventh amendment you have a right to a jury trial for cases involving “damages.”

Damages is a little bit of a term of art in this sense, but it basically means “money” for claims that were traditionally brought in courts of “law” (as opposed to courts of “equity”). As it happens, breach of contract, which is what most credit card cases are, is a legal claim subject to the 7th amendment. On the other hand, claims brought under, for example, the claim of “account stated,” are equitable claims that don’t give you a right to a jury trial by themselves.

That means that if the debt collector is suing for breach of contract or “open” or “closed” account, you have a right to a jury trial under the constitution. If they are suing you EXCLUSIVELY for account stated, on the other hand, you don’t.

When you have a right to a jury trial for one claim, you have a right to jury trial for all claims, so if they bring breach of contract AND account stated, you’ll have a right to jury trial for both. Most debt defendants, therefore, do have a right to trial by jury. Should you demand a trial by jury? I usually think so.

Trials by jury force the judge to take the law of evidence more seriously. In fact they take jury trials more seriously in a lot of ways. That benefits the debt defendant because our case is usually that the debt collector does not have any evidence that complies with the rules of evidence, and we need the court to take that seriously.

I also suggest demanding a jury trial because they are far more difficult for the debt collectors.

Understand what I’m saying, though. It isn’t that debt collectors don’t know how to do jury trials or even that they aren’t good at them – individual talent varies, of course.  I’m only saying that debt cases tried to a judge can take twenty minutes. Picking a jury can take hours. And all the rules have to be carefully followed, and there are special rules and procedures, too. So demanding a jury might require 20 times as much attorney time. And time is money. Especially attorney time at $250/hour.

Debt plaintiffs don’t like cases that take a lot of time. It increases their costs, and they know you don’t have much money, so they worry about getting it back. Debt collector lawyers also worry about cases taking a long time because their performance affects their annual pay, and long debt cases hurt them.

In my opinion, those are strong reasons to seek a jury trial, and I might add that there will be times when a jury is also more sympathetic to the defendant than a judge would be. Judges haven’t faced debt trouble in a very long time, in general, by the time they’ve become judges. Most jurors, on the other hand, will have money worries. But I wouldn’t rely on this too much. Some judges are sympathetic, and some take their work seriously whether they’re sympathetic or not. And some juries can be pretty harsh.

But our goals in jury trials don’t depend on the jury that much. We want the judge to exclude evidence that shouldn’t be seen, and they take that more seriously when there’s a jury. Then it’s clear the debt collector didn’t make its case.

So why might you NOT want a jury? The only reason I’ve ever heard from debt defendants is that they’re scared of them. And I hear that a lot, but it’s not a good reason. Almost everybody I know who has ever had a jury trial has said it wasn’t scary. Not when you’re doing it. They are a little scary to think about and get ready for – pretrial jitters are normal, but once the trial starts, you’ll be too busy to be nervous. That’s as true of jury trials as it is of judge-tried cases.

You have a right to a trial by jury, but how and when you ask for it can make a difference. In some jurisdictions you just put it at the end of your Answer. In some jurisdictions you have to enter it as a separate request, separately. Which of these you’ll need to do is probably in your court’s local rules, but you might ask a court clerk about that. If you can’t get an answer from an authority, I’d suggest putting it both on your Answer and making a separate request which you submit at the same time as your Answer.

If you didn’t ask for a jury trial, is it too late?

The law favors jury trials, but individual judges often don’t, since they know as well as I do that jury trials take more time and attention. For that reason, if you haven’t already asked for a jury trial, I suggest you do it ASAP. The number of days could matter, since a court’s discretion to deny a request for jury is probably tied to how long the case has been going on. You should do a little research before filing your jury demand, though, because if you don’t do it right off the bat, you’ll need to file a motion that tells the judge why you should get one. That isn’t complicated, but you’ll want to know what the rules are that apply to it.