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Was originally done in one of three ways: compurgation; trial-by-combat; ordeal. Jury trial developed in England as a fourth alternative.
The examination before a competent tribunal, according to the laws, of the land, of the facts put in issue in a cause, for the purpose of determining such issue.
There are various kinds of trial, the most common of which is trial by jury. To insure fairdess this mode of trial lust be in public; it is conducted by selecting a jury in the manner prescribed by the local statutes, who must be sworn to try the Hiatter in dispute according to law, and the evidence. Evidence is then given by the party on whom rests the onus probandi or burden of the proof, as the witnesses are called by a party they are questioned by him, and after they have been examined, which is called an examination in chief, they are subject to a cross-examination by the other party as to every part of their testimony. Having examined all his witnesses, the party who supports the affirmative of the issue closes; and the other party then calls his witnesses to explain his case or support his part of the issue these are in the same manner liable to a cross-examination. In case the parties should differ as to what is to be given in evidence, the judge, must decide the matter, and his decision is conclusive upon the parties so far as regards the trial; but, in civil cases, a bill of exceptions way be taken, so that the matter may be examined before another tribunal. When the evidence has been closed, the counsel for the party who supports the affirmative of the issue, then addressess the jury, by recapitulating the evidence and applying the law to the facts, and showing on what particular points he rests his case. The opposite counsel then addresses the jury, enforcing in like manner the facts and the law as applicable to his side of the case; to which the other counsel has a right to reply. It is then the duty of the judge to sum up the evidence and explain to the jury the law applicable to the case this is called his charge. The jurors then retire to deliberate upon their verdict, and, after having agreed upon it, they come into court and deliver it in public. In case they cannot agree they may, in cases of necessity, be discharged: but, it is said, in capital cases they cannot be. Very just and merited encomiums have been bestowed on this mode of trial, particularly in criminal cases. The learned Duponceau has given beautiful sketch of this tribunal; "twelve invisible judges," said he, "whom the eye of the corrupter cannot see, and the influence of the powerful cannot reach, for they are nowhere to be found, until the moment when the balance of justice being placed in their bands, they hear, weigh, determine, pronounce, and immediately disappear, and are lost in the crowd of their fellow citizens."
Trial by certificate. By the English law, this is a mode of trial allowed in such cases where the evidence of the person certifying is the only proper criterion of the point in dispute. For, when the fact in question lies out of the cognizance of the court, the judges must rely on the solemn averments or information of persons in such station, as affords them the most clear and complete knowledge of the truth.
As therefore such evidence, if given to a jury, must have been conclusive, the law, to save trouble and circuity, permits the fact to be determined upon such certificate merely.
Trial by the grand assise. This kind of trial is very similar to the common trial by jury. There is only one case in which it appears ever to have been applied, and there it is still in force.
In a writ of right, if the defendant by a particular form of plea appropriate to the purpose, (see the plea, 3 Chitty, 652,) denied the right of the demandant, as claimed, he had the option, till the recent abolition of the extravagant and barbarous method of wager by battel, of either offering battel or putting himself on the grand assise, to try whether he or the demandant "had the greater right." The latter course he may still take; and, if he does, the court award a writ for summoning four knights to make the election of twenty other recognitors. The four knights and twelve of the recognitors so elected, together making a jury of sixteen, constitute what is called the grand assise; and when assembled, they proceed to try the issue, or (as it is called in this case) the mise, upon the question of right. The trial, as in the case of a common jury, may be either at the bar or nisi prius; and if at nisi prius, a nisi prius record is made up; and the proceedings are in either case, in general, the same as where there is a common jury. Upon the issue or mise of right, the wager of battel or the grand assise was, till the abolition of the former, and the latter still is, the only legitimate method of trial; and the question cannot be tried by a jury in the common form.
Trial by inspection or examination. This trial takes place when for the greater expedition of a cause, in some point or issue being either the principal question or arising collaterally out of it, being evidently the object of sense, the judges of the court, upon the testimony of their own senses, shall decide the point in dispute. For where the affirmative or negative of a question is matter of such obvious determination, it is not thought necessary to summon a jury to decide it; who are properly called in to inform the conscience of the court in respect of dubious facts, and, therefore, when the fact, from its nature, must be evident to the court either from ocular demon-stration or other irrefragable proof, there the law departs from its usual resort, the verdict of twelve men, and relies ou the judgment alone. For example, if a defendant pleads in abatement of the suit that the plaintiff is dead, and one appears and calls himself the plaintiff, which the defendant denies; in this case the judges shall determine by inspection and examination whether be be the plaintiff or not.
Judges of courts of equity frequently decide facts upon mere inspection. The most familiar examples are those of cases where the plaintiff prays an injun ction on an allegation of piracy or infringement of a patent or copyright.
Trial by the record. This trial applies to cases where an issue of nul tiel record is joined in any action. If, on one side, a record be asserted to exist, and the opposite party deny its existence, under the form of traverse, that there is no such record remaining in court, as alleged, and issue be joined thereon, this is called an issue of nul tiel record; and the court awards, in such case, a trial by inspection and examination of the record: Upon this the party, affirming its existence, is bound to produce it in court, on a day given for the purpose, and if he fail to do so, judgment is given for his adversary.
The trial by record is not only in use when an issue of this kind happens to arise for decision, but it is the only legitimate mode of trying such issue, and the parties cannot put themselves upon the country.
Trial by wager of battel. In the old English law, this was a barbarous mode of trying facts, among a rude people, founded on the supposition that heaven would always interpose, and give the victory to the champions of truth and innocence. This mode of trial was abolished in England as late as 1818. It never was in force in the United States.
Trial by wager of law. This mode of trial has fallen into complete disuse; but in point of law, it seems, in England, to be still competent in most cases to which is anciently applied. The most important and best established of these cases, is, the issue of nil debet, arising in action of debt of simple contract, or the issue of non detinet, in an action of detinue. In the declaration in these actions, as in almost all others, the plaintiff concludes by offering his suit (of which the ancient meaning was followers or witnesses, though the words are now refained as mere form,) to prove the truth of his claim. On the other hand, if the defendant, by a plea of nil debet or non detinet, deny the debt or detention, be may conclude by offering to establish the truth of such plea, "against the plaintiff and his suit, in such manner as the court shall direct." Upon this the court awards the wager of law and the form of this proceeding, when so awarded, is that the defendant brings into court with him eleven of his neighbors, and for himself, makes oath that he does not owe the debt or detain the property alleged and then the eleven also swear that they believe him to speak the truth; and the defendant is then entitled to judgment. Blackstone compares this mode of trial to the canonical purgation of the catholic clergy, and to the decisory oath of the civil, law.
Trial by witnesses. This species of trial by witnesses, or per testes, is without the intervention of a jury
This is the only method of trial known to the civil law, in which the judge is left to form in his own breast his sentence upon the credit of the witnesses examined; but it is very rarely used in the common law, which prefers the trial by jury in almost every instance.
In England, when a widow brings a writ of dower, and the tenant pleads that the tenant is not dead, this being looked upon as a dilatory plea, is, in favor of the widow, and for greater expedition, allowed to be tried by witnesses examined before the judges; and so, says Finch, shall no other case in our law. But Sir Edward Coke mentions others: as to try whether the tenant in a real action was duly summoned; or the validity of a challenge to a juror; so that Finch's observation must be confined to the trial of direct and not collateral issues. And in every case the affirmative must be proved by two witnesses at least.