Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 02-16-2009, 07:41 PM
Jim B. Jim B. is offline
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2002
Posts: 1,721
Exact Meaning of 'Jury of Your Peers'.

This is a question I have had literally since I was a little child. What is the exact meaning of "peer" in the phrase "jury of your peers"? I know our system of law guarantees we all will have this right should we ever get charged with a crime. I also know it apparently means "equals". But "equals" in what?? Money? Education? We don't have the British system of lords and ladies. So it couldn't be that. More specifically, who in society would not be considered our peer in this sense?

Thank you in advance to all who reply
"Love takes no less than everything." (from "Love Is", a duet by Vanessa Williams and Brian McKnight)
Old 02-16-2009, 07:44 PM
Q.E.D. Q.E.D. is offline
Charter Member
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 22,536
I believe in this case, "peers" is intended to refer simply to ordinary citizens like the accused, as opposed to, say, a bunch of judges or police officers or FBI agents.
Old 02-16-2009, 07:44 PM
askeptic askeptic is offline
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: California
Posts: 4,686
Other citizens.
Old 02-16-2009, 07:47 PM
Vox Imperatoris Vox Imperatoris is offline
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Tuscaloosa, AL
Posts: 1,459
Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
We don't have the British system of lords and ladies. So it couldn't be that.
It is that, at least originally. They just kept the same wording from the British legal tradition (and Magna Carta, maybe?). No sense in messing with a good thing.

Vox Imperatoris
Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit. Pandora
Old 02-16-2009, 08:12 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
Charter Member
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: NY but not NYC
Posts: 29,628
"Jury of peers" appears nowhere in the constitution. We are guaranteed an impartial jury, but there is no mention of who should or not constitute that jury. It's not a legal term in federal law. No matter how many times people say it, it's just an adage.
Old 02-16-2009, 08:18 PM
friedo friedo is offline
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Brooklyn
Posts: 23,593
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
"Jury of peers" appears nowhere in the constitution. We are guaranteed an impartial jury, but there is no mention of who should or not constitute that jury. It's not a legal term in federal law. No matter how many times people say it, it's just an adage.
Dunno about federal law, but it appears (of sorts) in the New York Constitution:

Originally Posted by N.Y. Const Article I 1
No member of this state shall be disfranchised, or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof, unless by the law of the land, or the judgment of his or her peers, except that the legislature may provide that (blah blah stuff about elections)
Old 02-16-2009, 09:29 PM
Noel Prosequi Noel Prosequi is offline
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: In the Ning Nang Nong
Posts: 1,323
The expression appears in Magna Carta (to the extent that the original is in the Latin of the day).

Every now and then some ratbag tries to assert that he is entitled by Magna Carta to a jury of his peers, which he self-servingly defines. The first problem is that the Magna Carta is now of only historical and not legal interest. Primary school children get taught that it is the basis of freedoms etc, but that is so (to the extent that it even is so) in a historical sense, not a contemporary legal sense. In practice, its provisions have been so diluted, modified and repealed that it is irrelevant. I don't know of a jurisdiction that derives its jurisprudence historically from England where this is not so.

At one point in history there was a social and legal distinction between members of the nobility and commoners, each of which did not treat the other as "peers". It was, for example, possible for a member of the House of Lords to insist on a trial by other members of the House, rather than an ordinary jury. It seems that Lord Cardigan (of Charge of the Light Brigade fame) insisted on one some time before he became historically more famous.

At the present day, however, all citizens are "equals" and those who insist that they are sufficiently special that their jury should only come from some small selected sub-group always lose.

The following passage is taken from a case in my jurisdiction where an argument about who could comprise the jury of a man charged with wilful damage occurred. The accused claimed to be a descendent of an aboriginal tribe, and therefore tried to insist that his jury should come from co-members also so descended. The reference to Australia does not reduce the generality of the extract. In short, peers means "equals" in the sense of "equals before the law", and that means everyone.

"In popular imagination a reference to Magna Carta invariably means the Great Charter granted by King John at Runnymede in 1215. A recent American commentator Professor Thomas G. Barnes reminds us that Magna Carta is “more often cited than read”. Perhaps that is because it was written in Latin. The special edition published by the Legal Classics Libraryof Birmingham, Alabama, to which these and other remarks by Professor Barnes form an introduction, offers the following translation of ch.39:

“No freeman shall be seized, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, or in any way destroyed; nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.”

The edition referred to is a reprint of an historical essay by Richard Thomson published in 1829, in which, at p.228, it is suggested that “the

word Peer was probably originally derived of the Latin Par an equal…”, adding that “the trial by equals is of great antiquity…”. To accept that what is required by ch.39 is a trial by “equals” is effectively to dispose of the appellant’s second ground of appeal. For, in contemporary Australia, all individuals are equal before the law, and, whatever else may be said about those who comprised the jury at the trial of the applicant in this case, they were at law certainly all his equals, as he was theirs."
Old 02-16-2009, 11:05 PM
Markxxx Markxxx is offline
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Chicago,IL
Posts: 14,962
Here's a good website with some interesting examples

From Associated Content


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 08:00 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to:

Send comments about this website to:

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to:

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

Copyright © 2017