Thursday, April 24, 2014

What to Expect in the Courtroom

If You Are Sent to a Courtroom

Jury Selection:

Once you report to a courtroom, you and the other potential jurors will be escorted into the courtroom by a bailiff or court attendant. The first twelve to eighteen names on a random list of jurors will be called. These people will take seats in a jury box. The rest of you will remain seated in the courtroom. The judge will explain what the case is about, how long the case will last, and introduce the lawyers and parties to you. All prospective jurors will be required to agree to truthfully answer all questions asked.

Next, the judge and/or the attorneys will question each one of you seated in the jury box to determine if you would be an appropriate juror for the case. They will use the voir dire questionnaire you filled out to help them pose appropriate questions.

Voir dire questioning may take more than one day. Carefully follow the directions of the judge and courtroom staff regarding the date and time to return. If you are going to be late, immediately contact the clerk of the courtroom to which you have been assigned and explain your situation. Remember, the trial cannot proceed until everyone is present. If you do not have a valid excuse, the judge may fine you for being late.

Occasionally, issues arise in trial preparation or events occur during a trial which could not be anticipated. When this happens, the judge and the parties may need to address the matter outside of your presence. You should not speculate about what is going on. Rest assured that the judge respects your time and will make every effort to not waste it.

Challenges:

An attorney may challenge you for cause. This means the attorney will ask the judge to excuse you from the jury for a specific legal reason. Each lawyer has an unlimited number of challenges for cause. Each attorney also has the right to a certain number of peremptory challenges. That is, the attorney may ask that you be excused without giving any reason at all. If this happens, do not take it personally. The lawyer is merely exercising a right given by law. If you are excused for any reason, return to the jury assembly room for further instructions.

Once the required number of jurors have been chosen, the jury panel is sworn to try the case.

What To Expect if Sworn as a Juror

Admonishment:

If you are selected as a sworn juror in a particular case, the judge will admonish you not to speak with any other juror or other person about any subjects connected with the case until the case is submitted for deliberation. In addition, you are not to allow any juror or other person to speak to you about subjects related to the case.

If you were to discuss the facts of the case, or your impressions of it, with a fellow juror, your family, friends or any other person, you would be exposing your mind to outside influences. Remember that all cases must be decided solely on the evidence received in the courtroom.

In addition, the admonition that you neither form nor express opinions on the case requires that you keep an open mind until all evidence has been presented and the case has been submitted to you and your fellow jurors for deliberation. Even an inadvertent violation of this instruction would be a violation of your oath as a juror.

You will be asked to wear a badge so that you will be recognized as a juror and avoid subjecting yourself to any inappropriate discussions related to the case. If you believe someone has deliberately tried to speak to you about the case, you must report the incident to the judge immediately.

How the Trial Proceeds:

Jurors serve in two kinds of cases, criminal and civil. In a criminal case, the plaintiff is a prosecutor who represents the State of California. The prosecutor alleges that the defendant committed a crime. The prosecution has the burden of proving each element of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, a person or entity – the plaintiff – asks the court to protect some right or help recover money or property from another person or entity – the defendant. There is a different burden of proof for civil cases.

Opening Statement

First the attorney for the plaintiff in a civil trial, or the deputy district attorney in a criminal trial, will tell the jury what he or she intends to prove. The attorney for the defense may speak after that or may wait until after the other side presents its evidence.

Presentation of the Evidence

After the opening statements, each side in the case will present its evidence. This is done by calling witnesses, asking them questions and presenting exhibits such as photographs, papers, charts, weapons or any other evidence to prove its case. Sometimes the defense in the case will not present evidence. In a criminal case, the defendant is presumed innocent and the prosecution has the burden of establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. No criminal defendant is required to supply a defense. Each side has the opportunity to ask questions of all witnesses called to testify.

Generally speaking, evidence can come in the form of testimony given by sworn witnesses, exhibits admitted by the judge, witnesses’ sworn written depositions and any stipulations or agreements between the sides as to certain facts of the case.

Judges and lawyers must follow the Evidence Code, which has been created over time to insure a fair trial. During a trial, information may come up that cannot be considered as evidence, and the Judge will tell you to not consider it when deliberating.

The judge decides what evidence is proper or admissible. The judge must apply the rules of evidence according to the law. Although the judge decides what evidence you may consider, you decide if that evidence is believable and how important it is to the case.

Closing Argument

After presentation of all the evidence, the attorneys will sum up the case from their perspectives. Taking turns, each side will tell you what he or she believes the evidence shows and why it favors his or her side.

Instructions to the Jury

The judge will instruct you on your duties as jurors either before or after the attorneys present their closing arguments. The judge will also tell you about the law that applies to the case.

In the Jury Deliberation Room

After instructions and closing arguments, the bailiff or court attendant will escort you to the jury room where you and the other jurors will deliberate. First, you will select one of the jurors as foreperson. He or she leads the discussion and tries to encourage everyone to join in. Do not be afraid to speak out during deliberations. The whole idea of a jury is to come to a decision after full and frank discussion of the evidence and the instructions, based on calm, unbiased reasoning. In civil cases, it takes nine jurors to reach a verdict. In criminal cases, the verdict must be unanimous.

The Verdict

When you have reached your verdict – which may come after a few hours or several days – the foreperson will record your verdict on an official form. The bailiff will tell the judge you are ready and you will return to the jury box. The judge will ask if you have reached a verdict. The foreperson will answer, handing the written verdict to the bailiff for delivery to the judge. The clerk will read it aloud and mark the record accordingly. Sometimes one or all of the parties will ask that the jury be polled. This means that the judge or clerk will ask each juror individually if this is his or her own verdict. The jury’s service will then be complete in most cases.

Settlement

Parties involved in a case generally seek to settle their differences to avoid the expense, time and risks of a trial. Sometimes the case is settled or resolved just a few moments before the trial begins or even during the course of a trial. Jurors may have already been assigned to a case and may be asked to wait while last minute negotiations are taking place. Your time is not wasted – your very presence in the court encourages resolution!

If a case does settle and the judge releases you, return to the jury assembly room for further instruction.