JURY TRIALS: WHAT TO EXPECT
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 provide information on what to expect and what you may experience during jury selection and upon being selected as a juror for a trial.
Selection of a Jury
Jurors who report to the courthouse for jury selection will initially report to the jury selection room. When the jury trial is ready to begin, all jurors will be escorted to the courtroom. The judge will welcome the jurors and provide an introduction to the schedule trial including the parties to the case, the charges and the estimated length of the trial.
All prospective jurors are required to be sworn that they will truthfully answer all questions asked of them during voir dire. Voir dire occurs when randomly chosen jurors take a seat in the jury box and are questioned about their qualification to serve on the case. The judge and attorneys will ask questions to each juror for the purpose of determining whether their minds are free from any bias or prejudice that might interfere with their ability to act as fair and impartial jurors. This process will continue until a jury is selected.
Within a District Court, Probate Court, and Circuit Court civil trials, six or more jurors are chosen. In Circuit Court criminal trials, 12 or more jurors are selected. Up to two alternate jurors are often seated on a jury in case of illness or other unforeseen circumstance requires a juror to be excused from service during the trial. Alternate jurors are excused prior to jury deliberation.
Being Dismissed or Excused from Service
Jurors may be excused
for cause if they 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 this is not a reflection on you. You may, in fact, be selected to sit on another trial in the future.
As the trial begins, the attorneys for each side often make opening statements. The purpose of a 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
Evidence is testimony or exhibits that relate to the facts 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.
Summation or Closing Arguments
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 or closing arguments, the judge will instruct jurors on the law that applies to the case. Jurors must apply that law to the facts to arrive at a verdict.
Deliberation occurs when the jury is given the case to determine a verdict. Six jurors will deliberate in civil cases, along with District and Probate Court cases. Twelve jurors deliberate in a Circuit Court criminal case. If alternates were chosen, alternate jurors are excused before deliberation begins.
Once in the jury room, the jurors first job is to select a foreperson. The foreperson is responsible for seeing that discussions occur in a free and orderly manner and that every juror has a chance to speak. The foreperson also conducts any votes taken and directs any questions the jury may make to the judge.
Determining the Verdict
The verdict in a criminal case must be unanimous. The verdict in a civil case requires five of the six jurors to agree. 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 bailiff when the jury has arrived at a verdict. Jurors will re-enter the courtroom and the verdict will be read. Either side may ask for a poll of the jury, meaning that the court will ask each juror individually their verdict.
Upon the conclusion of the trial, the judge and attorneys may speak to the jury about the case and engage in dialogue with jurors regarding their experience. 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. Many cases are settled because jurors are ready and available to serve.