Jurors & Jury Trials
Selection of a Jury: Voir Dire
After you have reported for jury duty, the jury panel is sent to the courtroom in which the case will be heard. The judge in the courtroom will explain the case and introduce the lawyers and other participants. Jurors will have an opportunity to request to be excused in open court. Next, as part of jury selection, the judge and the lawyers will question the jury panel members to determine if anyone has knowledge of the case, a personal interest in it, or feelings that might make it hard to be impartial. This process is called "voir dire," a phrase meaning "to speak the truth."
Questions asked during voir dire may seem personal but should be answered completely and honestly. The questions are not intended to embarrass anyone but are used to make sure that members of the jury do not have opinions or past experiences which might prevent reaching an impartial decision.
Excusing a Juror
During voir dire the lawyers may ask the judge to excuse a juror from sitting on the case. This is called "challenging a juror." There are two types of challenges: a challenge for cause and a peremptory challenge.
A challenge for cause means the lawyer has a specific reason for thinking that a juror would not be impartial. For example, the case may involve driving under the influence of alcohol. If a juror had been in an accident with a drunk driver and was still upset about it, the defense attorney could ask that the juror be excused for that reason. There is no limit to the number of jurors who may be excused for challenge for cause.
Peremptory challenges, on the other hand, do not require the lawyers to state any specific reason for excusing a juror. Peremptory challenges are intended to allow lawyers, both prosecution and defense, to do their best to assure that the trial is fair. Peremptory challenges are limited to three per side in most cases.
Ultimately, a jury of 6 or 12 people will be selected; sometimes additional jurors are empanelled to allow for alternate jurors.
Proper Juror Behavior
After swearing in the jury panel, the judge will admonish the jurors regarding the legal limitations of their role. It is imperative that jurors follow the judge's instructions to the letter or they may cause a mistrial, requiring the court to re-try the case. Do not do any independent research into the facts of the case. Do not Google, blog or text any comments about the proceeding while the trial is in progress.
Order of Events in the Trial
After the jury is selected, the trial will generally follow this order of events:
The lawyers for each side may explain the case, the evidence they will present, and the issues for the jury to decide.
Presentation of Evidence
The evidence consists of the testimony of witnesses and the exhibits allowed by the judge. Exhibits admitted into evidence will be available to the jury for examination during deliberations. The jury will be asked to make decisions regarding disputed facts; therefore, it is critically important that each juror is paying full attention to the proceedings at all times. The acceptability of juror note-taking will be determined by the judge.
Rulings by the Judge
The judge may be asked to decide questions of law during the trial. Occasionally, the judge may ask jurors to leave the courtroom while the lawyers make their legal arguments. The jurors should understand that such interruptions are needed to make sure that their jury verdict is based upon proper evidence, as determined by the judge under the Rules of Evidence. Jurors may give the evidence whatever weight they consider appropriate.
Instructions to the Jury
At the end of presentation of all the evidence, the judge will read the instructions to the jury, explaining the law and other considerations in the case.
After instructions, the lawyers have the opportunity to summarize the evidence in their closing arguments. If alternate jurors are part of the panel, the clerk will randomly select the name(s) of juror(s) to be sent home. Alternate jurors will be instructed not to discuss the case until they are informed by phone that the jury has reached a verdict.
After closing arguments, the jury is isolated to decide the facts in the case and reach a verdict. The jury will elect a foreman to chair deliberations and present their verdict to the court. Twelve jurors in Superior Court (or 6 jurors in District Court) will deliberate to reach consensus. If the jury is unable to agree on their verdict, they will follow the instructions of the court.
After the verdict is delivered, the attorneys may request that the jury be polled. Polling the jury involves each juror being asked whether he or she agrees with the verdict as presented to the court. Shortly after the verdict is delivered, the jury will be released by the judge, with further instructions.
Jurors may request a "proof of jury service" document from the jury manager. Paychecks will be mailed two to five weeks after your service is complete.
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