Jury Right Not Absolute In Civil Trial’s Penalty Phase

1987

In Tull v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that even if a civil defendant is entitled to a jury at the liability phase of a trial – when it is decided whether a law has been broken – the right does not necessarily extend to the penalty phase, when the amount of damages is decided. Under the Clean Water Act, a federal anti-pollution law, a defendant could request a jury to decide whether he or she broke a law. But the act gives the judge the right to decide what penalty should be imposed. The Court finds that this judge-only provision does not violate the Seventh Amendment because assessment of penalties does not involve the substance of a common-law right.