16th District Court

Being a Juror

The following material is reproduced from the Juror's Manual distributed to jurors at the 16th District Court.
You have been called to serve for a short time as a juror. The function of a juror is an extremely important one in a democratic and civilized society. The property or the liberty of another human being or group of human beings is at stake. If you are a conscientious person, you will want to do your very best to make sure that the jury on which you sit returns a verdict which is as fair and impartial as possible. In all likelihood, however, you have never before been a juror. You may never even have been in a courtroom before this. You probably have many questions about the trial and about your duties as a juror. The purpose of this booklet is to explain to you generally the manner in which lawsuits are tried and the part which you, as a juror, must play in seeing that justice is done.

Civil and Criminal Cases
You already know that lawsuits fall into two categories. Some are civil cases. Some are criminal cases. However, you probably do not have a clear idea as to the distinction between the two. A few general comments can help you see the difference.

In civil cases, the party starting the lawsuit is known as the "plaintiff". The person against whom the suit is brought is called the "defendant". Plaintiff’s suit is commenced by service of two documents, a Summons and a Complaint, upon the defendant. The Summons does what its name suggests; it summons or "calls" the defendant before the court. The Complaint is perhaps the more important document. In the Complaint, the plaintiff makes allegations or "accusations" against the defendant. The plaintiff’s Complaint will charge the defendant either with causing bodily injury or property damage or with depriving the plaintiff of some thing of value to which the plaintiff believes he’s is entitled. The Complaint will also request the court to award "damages", that is, money to the plaintiff to compensate him for his bodily injury or property damages or the thing of which he has been deprived. The defendant responds to the Complaint by filing a document called an Answer. These papers, called the pleadings, have been exchanged between the parties sometime before the trial starts.

The foregoing describes a very simple civil case. Often, civil cases are more complicated. You may be selected as juror in a civil case where there are several plaintiffs or several defendants. Or, in addition to the request by the plaintiff for money damages, the defendant may also be requesting money damages either from the plaintiff in what is called a "counter-claim," or from another defendant, called a "cross-claim," or from a person not originally involved in the case but later added and called a "third party defendant." Moreover, it must be remembered that the plaintiff and the defendant are not always individuals. They may be partnerships or corporations. Even the city, county, state, or federal government may be a party to a civil action.

In criminal cases, the party starting the lawsuit is always "The People: acting through governmental representatives, such as the County Prosecuting Attorney, when a violation of State law is alleged, or the City Attorney, when a violation of a City ordinance is alleged.

All crimes are prosecuted in the name of the appropriate governmental body, for when a crime is committed, it is the law of the state that is broken and the offense is against the people of the state, not just against one or more individuals as in a civil case. The purpose of a criminal case is to determine whether or not the defendant violated one or more of our statutory laws. Prior to the trial, a complaint is prepared and filed setting forth one or more charges against the defendant. Several charges may be combined in one such complaint but each is separately stated and is called a count. For example, a complaint may charge in one count that the defendant robbed the complainant, while in a second count, it may charge that the defendant also assaulted and beat the complainant.

After the charge or charges are filed, but before the trial, the defendant is arraigned. That is, he is brought before the judge and the complaint is read to him. For each violation charged he is asked, "How do you plead?" And he pleads "guilty" or "not guilty."

There are other, very important, differences between civil and criminal cases. These differences are not discussed in this booklet, but the specific rules which will apply to the trial in which you participate as a juror, whether civil or criminal, will be explained carefully to you by the judge. If you do not understand or if you have any questions about any of the Judge’s instructions, you should not only feel entirely free, but duty -bound to ask the judge to explain further.

Selection of Jury
You and a number of other citizens determined at random in accordance with the law and qualified to serve as jurors have been notified to come to Court for jury duty. Collectively you are called the "jury panel." The first step in a trial is to select from among you the number required to try the case- 6 jurors are usually required. Names are drawn from the jurymen present until the jury box is filled. If your name is called, you will be required to answer truthfully all questions asked of you concerning your qualifications to act as a juror in the case. A short statement will be made telling you what the case is about and the parties involved. Once you and the other prospective jurors have this information, the lawyers, or the Judge may question you to see if you are qualified to act as fair and impartial jurors. The lawyer or judge may ask you questions about your personal life and beliefs. This is often referred to as the "voir dire" examination. You should answer these questions fairly, and if for any reason you feel you should not serve as a juror, you should make the reason known. Any juror who is related to any of the parties, or who has unfinished business with one of the lawyers, or who knows so much about the case that he already has an opinion, will be challenged "for cause" and excused. In addition, each side has a right to excuse a certain number of jurors without giving any reason. These are called "peremptory" challenges. If you are challenged and excused, whether the reason is stated or not, it should be understood that this action is not a reflection on you in any way. Indeed, you may be selected later for the jury in another trial. When both sides are satisfied with the jury, the jurors who have been chosen are sworn to try the case upon the merits.

Importance of a Jury
You, as a member of the jury selected to try a lawsuit, have an extremely important function. You will be the judge of all questions of fact. You will know what each side claims or "says" the facts are. However, you and the other members of the jury must carefully consider all of the evidence brought before the Court and determine what the facts really are. Once you have deliberated and determined the facts, you will then apply the judge’s instructions on the law given at the end of the trial to the facts that you find to be the correct version and thereby actually settle the dispute or disputes between the parties.

These disputes which you, as a member of the jury, must decide are obviously most important to the parties involved. Our court system must continue to enjoy the respect of the people and to be an effective instrument for settling disputes fairly and peaceably. You and the other jurors must live up to the solemn oath that will be administered to you as soon as all the trial jurors are selected.

The Conduct of the Trial
Whether you are selected as a juror in a civil case or a criminal case, the trial is conducted in much the same manner.

Opening Statements
The attorney for the Plaintiff in civil cases or the prosecuting attorney in criminal cases will generally begin by making a short opening statement. The lawyer for the defendant may then make a similar statement or he may defer his opening statement until the plaintiff’s case is completed. The opening statement will tell you what the party "says" or "believes" the relevant facts are. The opening statement also outlines the evidence by which the party expects to prove his version of the facts. You should remember that these statements of the lawyers are not evidence, but are only the parties’ respective "versions" of the facts. These statements must be proved by evidence.

Witness and Other Evidence
Any testimony or any exhibits which tend to prove or disprove a statement alleged or claimed by one of the parties to be fact, is called evidence. "Testimony" is a word with which you are undoubtedly familiar. It means the statements of any person called to be a witness at the trial. You probably are not quite as familiar with the meaning of "exhibit." An exhibit can be any physical article, such as a document, photo, gun, etc., introduced at the trial for consideration by the jury in the determination of the facts in the case. Sometimes, the testimony of a witness will have been given outside the courtroom or at a different trial and put into writing. Such written testimony is called either a "deposition" or a "transcript." One of the attorneys may wish to offer this written testimony in accordance with any instructions given by the judge.

Examination of Witnesses
Generally, the parties to a lawsuit will call witnesses to testify. The witnesses are sworn to tell the whole truth. If the attorney calls the party he represents or some neutral person, the witness called is "his witness," but if he calls the opposite party, the witness called is referred to as an "adverse witness." An attorney who has called "his witness" proceeds with direct examination. In doing so, the attorney asks questions to bring out answers tending to support facts he wishes to prove. Any attorney conducting an examination of a witness must follow certain rules of procedure. If these rules are not followed, the other attorney may "object" and if the judge thinks the question improper, he rules that the objection is sustained, which means that the question cannot be answered. If the question is proper, the objection is over-ruled, and the answer is given. When the direct examination is over, the attorney for the other party or parties may cross-examine. The purpose of cross-examination is to bring out additional information that may alter the jury’s impression or understanding of the statements made by the witness on direct examination. When cross-examination is finished, the first attorney may ask questions on redirect examination to clear up points developed on cross-examination. Generally, witnesses are only allowed to answer the questions asked. The court may order the jury to disregard altogether a particular statement of a witness, in which event such statement should of course be disregarded.

Order of Presentation
When the plaintiff’s attorney in a civil case or the prosecuting attorney in a criminal case has put in all his evidence, he indicates that he is through by "resting" his case. Then the defendant’s attorney calls his witnesses and offers his evidence. When the defendant’s attorney is through, he also "rests." Then the plaintiff’s attorney or the prosecuting attorney may offer evidence in rebuttal to explain or deny the defendant’s evidence.

After all the evidence has been given, each attorney will make his argument to the jury, giving the reasons why he thinks his side should win. If the testimony of witnesses is conflicting, he will tell you why he thinks the witnesses on his side should be believed rather than those on the other side. You should listen to these arguments carefully. What the attorney says in his argument is not evidence. He is only giving his version of the case which you may or may not find convincing. A juror should not make up his mind on the outcome of the case until he has heard and considered all the evidence and the instructions of the judge.

Toward the end of the trial the judge will give you his instructions. The purpose of these instructions is to indicate to the jury what the applicable rules of law are. That is, once the jury has determined which version of facts is to be believed it must then apply the rules of law given by the judge to reach its verdict.

Delays During Trial
During trial there may be delays for any one of many reasons. You may not know the reason for a delay and should not guess at it. Very often a delay actually saves time and more quickly brings the case to an end. Be patient.

Hearing and Seeing Witnesses
Jurors are the sole judges of whether a witness is telling the truth and is to be believed. Each juror should pay close attention to the witness who is testifying to hear what the witness says and to watch his manner and actions. If you cannot hear plainly, do not hesitate to interrupt and let the judge know that you cannot hear.

Guessing at the Judge’s Opinion
While a trial is going on, you may be tempted to guess at what the judge thinks about it, or the way he thinks it should be decided. This is a mistake. You are fooling yourself if you think you can read the judge’s mind. Even though the judge’s rulings may be mostly or entirely in favor of one party that certainly does not indicate how he thinks the case should be decided. If the judge has an opinion about the facts and it is one that you ought to know, he will make it plain to you in his instructions. If he does not express an opinion on the facts, it is because he does not wish you to know his opinion or because he ought not to indicate his opinion on questions of fact.

Juror’s Conduct During Trial
There are certain rules that a juror should follow throughout the trial in order that he may be fair to all sides. The judge will point out some of the rules to you. Some of the most important rules are:

Inspecting the Scene
It may be that the suit involves some place or thing, e.g. the scene of an accident, the operation of traffic lights or the like. If it is thought necessary and proper that the jury should make an inspection, the judge will send you in a body under the direction of the court officer. It would be improper for any juror to make an inspection unless ordered by the court, so be careful no to do so. Conditions may have changed. An unauthorized inspection might force a retrial of the case.

Discussing the Case
During the trial you should not talk about the case with other jurors, or with other persons, or allow other people to talk about it in your presence. If anyone should insist upon talking about the case to you, tell him that you are on the jury and must not listen to him. If he insists, then learn his name if you can and report the matter to the judge at the first opportunity.

Television, Radio, and Newspaper Accounts
In order that the mind of each juror be kept open until he has heard all the evidence, the arguments of the attorneys, and the instructions of the court, you should not listen to radio accounts or watch television accounts of the trial or read articles about it in the newspapers. Such accounts sometimes give an unbalanced idea of the case.

Talking with Parties or Attorney
Do not talk with parties, witnesses or attorneys during a trial.

It is most important that jurors should not be late in reporting for duty. A juror who is late wastes the time of all other jurors, the judge, the attorneys, the witnesses, the parties and the other court employees.