Capital Traction Co. v. Hof
174 U.S. 1 (1899)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Capital Traction Co. v. Hof, 174 U.S. 1 (1899)

Capital Traction Co. v. Hof

No. 108

Argued January 5-6, 1899

Decided April 11, 1899

174 U.S. 1

Syllabus

This Court has jurisdiction to review by writ of error, under the Act of February 9, 1893, c. 74, § 8, a judgment of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia maintaining the validity of proceedings for a trial by a jury before a justice of peace which were sought to be set aside on the ground that the act of Congress authorizing such a trial was unconstitutional.

The provisions of the Constitution of the United States securing the right of trial by jury, whether in civil or in criminal cases, are applicable to the District of Columbia.

By the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution, either party to an action at law (as distinguished from suits in equity and in admiralty) in a court of the United States where the value in controversy exceeds twenty dollars has the right to a trial by jury.

By the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution, when a trial by jury has been had in an action at law in a court either of the United States or of a state, the facts there tried and decided cannot be reexamined in any court of the United States otherwise than according to the rules of the common law of England -- that is to say, upon a new trial, either granted by the court in which the first trial was had or to which the record was returnable, or ordered by an appellate court for error in law.

Page 174 U. S. 2

"Trial by jury," in the primary and usual sense of the term at the common law and in the American constitutions, is a trial by a jury of twelve men, in the presence and under the superintendence of a judge empowered to instruct them upon the law and to advise them upon the facts, and (except upon acquittal of a criminal charge) to set aside their verdict if in his opinion it is against the law or the evidence.

A trial of a civil action, before a justice of the peace of the District of Columbia, by a jury of twelve men, as permitted by the acts of Congress, without requiring him to superintend the course of the trial or to instruct the jury in matter of law, or authorizing him to arrest judgment upon their verdict, or to set it aside for any cause whatever, is not a trial by jury in the sense of the common law and of the Constitution, and does not prevent facts so tried from being tried anew by a common law jury in an appellate court.

Congress, in the exercise of its general and exclusive power of legislation over the District of Columbia, may provide for the trial of civil causes of moderate amount before a justice of the peace, or, in his presence, by a jury of twelve, or of any less number, allowing to either party, where the value in controversy exceeds twenty dollars, the right to appeal from the judgment of the justice of the peace to a court of record, and to have a trial by jury in that court.

The appeal authorized by Congress from judgments of a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia to a court of record "in all cases where the debt or damage doth exceed the sum of five dollars" includes cases of judgments entered upon the verdict of a jury.

The right of trial by jury secured by the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution is not infringed by the Act of Congress of February 19, 1895, c. 100, enlarging the jurisdiction of a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia to three hundred dollars and requiring every appellant from his judgment to enter into an undertaking, with surety, to pay and satisfy the final judgment of the appellate court.

The case is stated in the opinion of the court.

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