The Five Main Steps of a Trial
California juries have been providing outstanding service and have set a high standard. The state of California and your trial judge thanks you and all jurors for giving generously of your time and taking the jury's duty seriously.
The following five steps outline the process from jury selection to verdict
Selection of Jury
Step #1: Selection of a Jury
"Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will accurately and truthfully answer, under penalty of perjury, all questions propounded to you concerning your qualifications and competency to serve as a trial juror in the matter pending before this court, and that failure to do so may subject you to criminal prosecution?"
The law lets the judge and the lawyers excuse individual jurors from service in a particular case for various reasons. If a lawyer wants to have a juror excused, he or she must use a "challenge" to excuse the juror. Challenges can be for cause or peremptory. There are unlimited challenges for cause and 10 in criminal cases (20 in death penalty) and 6 in civil cases (Code of Civil Procedure sec. 231).
The process of questioning and excusing jurors continues until 12 persons are accepted as jurors for the trial. Alternate jurors may also be selected. The judge and attorneys agree that these jurors are qualified to decide impartially and intelligently the factual issues in the case. When the selection of the jury is completed, the jurors take the following oath:
"Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will well and truly try the cause now pending before this court, and a true verdict render according only to the evidence presented to you and to the instructions of the court?"
Jurors' duties during the trial
Do not make up your mind before hearing all the evidence. It is also your duty not to form or express an opinion about the case to anyone. This means that you keep an open mind until you have heard the evidence from all sides and the case is given to the jury for deliberation. Only then may you discuss it with your fellow jurors and even then only when all jurors are present.
Do not conduct your own investigation of the case. It would also be a violation of your duty as a juror to conduct any investigation of the case. As a juror you must not become an amateur detective. For example, you must not visit the scene of an accident, an alleged crime, or any event or transaction involved in the case. You should not conduct experiments or consult any other person or reference works for additional information. If the judge feels that an inspection of a place is necessary or will be helpful, he or she will arrange and supervise an inspection by the whole jury. If you have a question about the evidence, let the judge know by handing a note to the bailiff and he or she will make a decision about your question.
Attorneys' opening statements
Presentation of evidence
Attorneys' closing statements
When considering the evidence, an important difference exists between civil and criminal cases in the degree of proof required to sustain an accusation. In a criminal case, the defendant, in order to be convicted, must be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, a party suing another has to prove that charge by a preponderance of the evidence. In every trial, the judge carefully explains the degree of proof required to reach a verdict. You should pay careful attention to the instructions on the degree of proof.
After you enter the jury room for deliberations, the exhibits that you are to consider are given to you. If you are not given written instructions from the judge on the law, you may request them. If you feel you need further instructions or to have certain testimony read back to you, inform the judge through the bailiff or the court attendant. Since these purposes can be accomplished only by returning everyone (including parties and lawyers) to the courtroom, you should not make these requests lightly. The procedure usually takes time, but this delay is understandable if you seriously believe doing so is necessary or helpful to you in reaching a verdict. There is a booklet, "Behind Closed Doors" that can assist jurors with the format of their deliberation. It is published by the American Judicature Society, which can be contacted at http://www.ajs.org/.
Quite often in the jury room the jurors may argue and have a difference of opinion. When this occurs, each juror should try to express his or her opinion and the reasoning supporting it. It would be wrong for a juror to refuse to listen to the arguments and opinions of the others or to deny another juror the right to express an opinion. Remember that jurors are not advocates, but impartial judges of the facts. By carefully considering each juror's opinion and the reasons behind it, it is usually possible for the jurors to reach a verdict. A juror should not hesitate to change his or her mind when there is a good reason. But each juror should maintain his or her position unless conscientiously persuaded to change that opinion by the other jurors. Following a full and free discussion with fellow jurors, each juror should vote only according to his or her own honest convictions.
It is important to take the case you are deciding seriously. After all, if you were a party in the case, it would be important to you, and you would want the jury to give it serious consideration even if the controversy appears less significant to others.
All jurors should deliberate and vote on each issue to be decided in the case. When it is time to count votes, it is the foreperson's duty to see that this is done properly. In a civil case, the judge will tell you how many jurors must agree in order to reach a verdict. In a criminal case, the unanimous agreement of all 12 jurors is required. If the required number of jurors agree on each issue to be decided, the foreperson will sign and date the verdict, advise the bailiff or court attendant, and return with the signed verdict and any unsigned verdict forms from prior votes to the courtroom.
If a jury cannot arrive at a verdict within a reasonable time and indicates
to the judge that there is no possibility that they can reach a verdict, the
judge, in his or her discretion, may dismiss the jury. This situation is a mistrial,
sometimes referred to as a "hung jury," and may mean the case goes
to trial again with a new jury.