Trial Process
Trial Process

Jury Selection
The first step in the actual trial of a jury case is the selection from the jury panel of the number of jurors required to try the case. It is sometimes six but most often twelve. At the beginning of this process, there are usually thirty prospective jurors present in the courtroom.

The juror selection process in any particular case usually begins with a brief explanation by the judge of the general nature of the case and the names of the parties and the attorneys.

The judge begins the procedure by questioning the members of the jury panel so as to determine each member's ability to serve as a juror in that particular case. Some questions may be directed to all of the jurors at once while others may be directed to individual jurors. The types of questions asked are determined by the judge, with suggestions from the attorneys representing the parties. The judge, for example, may inquire whether any of the jurors have any knowledge of the case.

The lawyers in the case will also have the right to ask additional questions of the jurors. This questioning process is called "voir dire", is designed to allow the lawyers to determine whether each juror can serve fairly and impartially in the case. Voir dire also provides the attorneys with the opportunity to become acquainted with the prospective jurors.

If you have never before served as a juror, it may seem that some of the questions are personal but it is not intended that any question should embarrass or reflect negatively on a juror in any way. Lawyers have a duty to their clients to ask those questions, which they feel, will assist them in deciding which jurors to select.

After questioning, a juror may be excused or challenged from sitting on a particular case. There are two (2) kinds of challenges: a challenge "for cause" and a peremptory challenge.

Whenever the questioning of a juror discloses some reason why the juror might not be objective or unbiased in the case (i.e. if the juror was related to or employed by one of the parties), that juror may be excused "for cause". This excuse for cause may be on the judge's initiative or upon motion by one of the parties' attorneys. There is no limit to the number of jurors who may be excused for cause.

After voir dire has been concluded and there are no further challenges for cause by either attorney, the attorneys may finally choose their jury by exercising a certain number of jurors without having to show a reason. A juror who is challenged and thereby excused for service should not be offended, as each attorney as a different idea as to the type of juror who would be most beneficial to the trial of the case.

When the jury has been selected and the required number of jurors are in the jury box, the jurors are sworn to try the case. This is called "empaneling" the jury.

 Opening Statements
The opening statement is made, first by the attorney for the plaintiff (or prosecution, in a criminal case), then by the attorney for the defense. The purpose of the opening statement is to outline to the jury the facts of the case and what each side will attempt to establish through the presentation of evidence. This is only an explanation of what each side claims.

Presentation of Evidence
After both sides have been given the opportunity to make opening statements, the trial moves to the stage in which evidence is presented by each side. The plaintiff (or prosecutor, in a criminal case) first presents all the evidence, which supports the plaintiff's contentions. Once the plaintiff has presented all of his or her proof, then the defendant may present evidence. It is important to remember in a criminal trial that the defendant has a constitutional right not to testify and that you may not be influenced by a criminal defendant's decision not to testify. Finally, the plaintiff may then put on more evidence to disprove or explain some evidence presented by the defendant.

Evidence may be in the form of a written document, an object, a photograph or an x-ray. Some pieces of evidence are called exhibits. In a civil trial, this physical evidence may be taken with you to the jury room and may be considered in your deliberations.

Most evidence is presented in the form of spoken testimony of witnesses who have taken an oath to tell the truth. The attorney who has called the witness asks questions of that witness first. This questioning is called direct examination. After direct examination is concluded, the lawyer for the opposing party may ask questions of the witness, or cross-examine the witness. After cross-examination, the lawyer who called the witness has a final opportunity to ask questions of the witness. This is called re-direct examination.

In some instances, an important witness cannot be present to testify in court. If such a witness has previously given testimony under oath and that testimony was written down, this testimony can be read into evidence. Such testimony, called a deposition, should be treated as though the witness was actually testifying in court.

From time to time during a trial, you may hear the attorney's make what are known as "objections". Objections may be made for several reasons, including objections to the conduct of the parties, to the conduct of the attorney's, to the form of the questions asked during the examination of a witness or the introduction of evidence. If the objection is deemed improper or not well founded, the judge will "over-rule" it and allow the proceedings to continue and the evidence to be introduced. If, on the other hand, the judge finds the objection to be valid and proper, the objection may be "sustained", there by discontinuing that conduct or questioning and prohibiting the introduction of the evidence in question.

Under the rules of law governing the introduction and admission of evidence, a lawyer has the right to object to the introduction of any evidence that he or she believes is not proper. The judge is the sole authority on what evidence is proper. Since the evidence may by excluded, the jury is usually not allowed to hear arguments as to admissibility. Thus, the judge may send the jury out of the courtroom to allow the attorneys to argue whether the evidence should be admitted or not. Sometimes evidence gets before the jury before the attorney has a chance to object. The judge may order the jury to disregard such evidence completely. If so ordered, the jury must disregard the evidence and not consider it as evidence.

Closing Statements
After both sides have had an opportunity to present their evidence and have both "rested" their cases, they are given a chance to make final or closing arguments to the jury. The plaintiff's attorney (or prosecutor, in a criminal case) will argue first, followed by the attorney for the defense. Both sides will sum up the evidence and testimony and try to persuade the jury to find in favor of their respective clients. These arguments, like the opening statements, should be listened to attentively but should not be considered as evidence in themselves.

Jury Instructions
At the end of the final arguments by the lawyers, the judge will instruct you on the law that applies in the case and must apply that law to the facts as you find them in arriving at your verdict. You are bound under your oath to give full effect to the law as the judge states it to you. You must pay close attention to his or her instructions.

Jury Deliberations
Following the reading of the jury instructions or charge by the judge, the court officer will escort the jury to the jury room to conduct deliberations. The jury must first elect a foreperson who will preside during the deliberations. The foreperson's duty to see that discussions are carried on in a free and orderly manner, that the matters and issues submitted for the jury's decision are fully and freely discussed and that every juror is given an opportunity to express himself or herself.

In a civil trial, after you retire to the jury room, you are entitled to have all exhibits brought to you.

If you have a question for the judge, or need to be re-instructed on the law, please write it out and hand it to the court officer who will present it to the judge. The judge will then take the appropriate action to either answer your question or to notify you that the question cannot be answered and explain why the question cannot be answered.

You should not submit questions to the judge without giving them careful consideration. Questions from the jury to the judge can be answered only by returning the jury to the courtroom and resuming court. The procedure may require considerable time but is justifiable if you seriously believe it to be necessary or helpful to you in discharging your duty.

In weighing evidence, an important distinction between civil and criminal case is the degree of proof required to sustain an allegation. In a criminal case, the defendant is presumed to be innocent, and, to be convicted must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the party who has made an affirmative allegation against another party must prove that allegation by a preponderance of evidence to support a finding in his or her favor on that allegation. In each case, the judge will carefully explain to you the degree of proof required to support particular findings and you should pay the same careful attention to instructions on this subject as you are required to pay to all other instructions.

Quite often, differences of opinion arise among the jurors in the jury room. When this occurs, each juror should express his or her opinions and reasons therefore. By the process of careful and thorough reasoning, it is generally possible for jurors to reach a verdict. As a juror, you should not hesitate to change your mind when there is good reason for doing so. If, however you have a definite opinion on a question, you should not change that opinion unless conscientiously moved to do so as a result of the deliberations, your consideration of the views of your colleagues, and your own further thought on the matter.

It would be wrong for a juror to refuse to listen to the arguments and opinions of the other jurors or to deny the right of another juror to express his or her opinion. All jurors should deliberate and vote on each issue to be decided.

Announcement of the Verdict
After the decision is made on the case, the court officer will escort the jury back into the courtroom. At this time the foreperson will present the verdict to the court.