Eaton County Juror Handbook
As a juror, you become part of our legal system in the administration of justice for all persons. The judge determines the law while the jury decides the facts. The success of our legal system is measured directly by the dedication, impartiality, sound judgment and integrity of those like you who serve as jurors.
This page is designed to answer some common questions about your service as a juror. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact the Jury Clerk.
Selection of a Jury
A jury trial begins with the selection of the jury. In Circuit Court civil cases, District Court Civil and criminal cases, and Probate or Juvenile cases, six or more jurors are chosen. In Circuit Court criminal cases, 12 or more jurors are chosen. Up to two
alternate jurors are often seated in case illness or other unforeseen circumstances require a juror to be excused from service during a trial. If the alternates are not needed they are excused just before deliberation begins.
The prospective jurors are first required to swear that they will answer truthfully all questions that will be asked them about their qualifications to serve as trial jurors in the pending case. The court then calls some jurors to take seats in the jury box. The judge addresses the jurors, telling them a little about the case. Then the judge or attorneys question the jurors for the purpose of determining whether their minds are free of any bias or prejudice that might interfere with their ability to act as fair and impartial jurors. Each side can excuse a certain number of jurors.
Being Excused from Service
You may be excused
for cause if you are related to or acquainted with any of the parties involved. Additionally, a
peremptory challenge allows each side to excuse a juror without giving a reason. If you are excused, with or without a given reason, you should understand that it's nothing personal and is no reflection on you. You may, in fact, be selected to sit on another trial.
As the trial begins, the lawyers for each side usually will make opening statements. The purpose of opening statements is to give you the framework of the case and to outline the evidence by which each side expects to present to prove what they say are the facts. It is important to note that opening statements are not to be considered as evidence - they are only the parties' respective versions of the facts as they claim them to be.
Evidence & Witnesses
The evidence is testimony or exhibits that relate to the fact in dispute. Testimony is the sworn statement of a witness. Listen closely to the witnesses as they testify. If you cannot hear plainly, interrupt the proceedings by raising a hand. An exhibit is a physical article, such as a document, a weapon, or a photograph that relates to the case.
After all, evidence has been introduced each side gives their summation, or closing argument, stating the reasons why they think their client should prevail. As with opening statements, closing arguments are not to be considered as evidence.
Judge's Instructions on the Law
After the summation, the judge will instruct you on the law that applies to the case. You must apply that law to the facts to arrive at your verdict. Be sure to give close attention to all instructions given by the judge.
Jury Deliberations in the Jury Room
Only six persons in a civil case, District Court criminal case and Probate or Juvenile case and 12 persons in a Circuit Court criminal case are allowed to deliberate. If alternates were chosen, the extra jurors are removed before deliberation begins.
Once in the jury room, your first job is to select a foreperson. The foreperson is responsible for seeing that discussions are carried on in a free and orderly manner and that every juror has a chance to speak out. The foreperson also conducts any votes that are taken and signs any requests the jury may make of the judge.
Should a jury feel that it is necessary to be reinstructed, be further instructed on the law or have a question answered, the jury may ask the judge by passing a note through the court officer.
Determining a Verdict
The verdict in a criminal case must be unanimous. The verdict in a civil case requires five of the six jurors to agree. Discussion in the jury room should be open and frank. Each juror should feel free to express their opinions and be open to the opinions of other jurors. The goal of deliberation is agreement on a verdict, but no juror should try to force another to adopt his or her position. The process of careful and thorough reasoning generally allows jurors to reach a verdict.
The foreperson will report to the judge when the jury has arrived at a verdict. The jurors will re-enter the courtroom and the verdict will be read in open court. Either side may ask for a poll of the jury, meaning that the court will ask each juror individually whether that is his or her verdict.
Whether you are selected as a juror for one of the courts in Eaton County, or were merely available to be selected, your importance cannot be overstated. A great many jury cases are disposed of by settlement because you are ready and available. The judges and courthouse staff hope that your service will be pleasant and rewarding.