After all of the jurors are seated in the box, the trial will begin. Whether it is a civil or criminal case, your duties are similar. However, in a criminal case, the jury decides whether the Commonwealth has proven defendant's guilt of crime; and in a civil case the jury assesses liability for money damages, if any, to be paid to a complaining party.
Each trial, civil or criminal, has separate parts that usually follow in the same order. After preliminary instruction from the judge to the jury, a trial begins with the opening statements by the attorneys. The plaintiff's attorney gives his opening statement first, followed by the defendant's attorney. These statements are meant simply to tell the jury what each side intends to prove or disprove by the evidence. Lawyers' statements are not considered as evidence.
The second part of the trial is the presentation of the evidence. Again, the plaintiff (in criminal cases, the Commonwealth) goes first and calls witnesses to testify under oath. This process is called direct examination.
After the plaintiff's attorney questions the witness, the defendant's attorney asks questions on cross-examination. If the witnesses have any documents, photographs or other physical objects that help to prove the facts of the case, they may be introduced into evidence and shown to the jury.
In some cases, a witness may be unavailable and may have answered questions in a deposition prior to the actual trial. These questions and answers may be read to the jury as evidence to be considered. Occasionally, depositions are videotaped for convenience of the jury and the court. The procedure of direct examination and cross-examination will continue with each witness until the plaintiff finishes presenting proof and rests plaintiff's case.
Defense counsel presents evidence by questioning witnesses and introducing physical objects if there are any. The defense conducts the direct examination and the plaintiff conducts the cross-examination. The defendant will also rest when counsel has finished presenting defendant's case. The plaintiff may then present more evidence, but only to disprove any new evidence brought out by the defendant and not already covered by the plaintiff's witnesses. This is called rebuttal.
When the plaintiff and defendant have both rested, the attorneys for each side present their closing arguments. The purpose of this part of the trial is to present the jury with each party's interpretation of the evidence and how the law should govern the jury's decision. As is true with the opening arguments, in civil cases, the plaintiff's attorney goes first. In criminal cases, the defense attorney goes first. The other attorney then makes argument. In civil cases, plaintiff's attorney may make a brief rebuttal argument. Again, the presentations are not evidence and must not be considered as such.
The jurors will then be instructed by the judge on the questions to be decided by them and the law to be applied in reaching a decision. The jury then retires to consider its verdict.
Its first act is to elect a jury foreperson to preside over the deliberations. The jury's verdict must reflect a decision based upon the evidence and an application of the law which has been stated by the judge.
When a jury has reached its verdict, the court attendant is summoned and the jurors return to the jury box. The trial judge will ask if a verdict has been reached. The foreperson answers and the verdict is orally read to the clerk.
Sometimes one of the parties will request that the judge poll the jury. This means that the court clerk asks each juror individually if the verdict is in fact his or her verdict. The judge then enters the verdict in an order and the jury is dismissed. A juror's duty is complete when the verdict is recorded.
Proceedings Outside Hearing of Jury
Occasionally, it may become necessary for the judge to consider motions made by attorneys on legal points. The judge may ask the attorneys to retire to his chambers or request that the jury leave the courtroom while the court makes a decision. These interruptions may seem troublesome or unnecessary, but they help eliminate the possibility that jurors may be exposed to information they should not consider. These hearings are a necessary part of the trial requiring your patience and understanding. The court makes every effort to keep these non-evidentiary interruptions to a minimum by disposing of anticipated legal rulings before the trial begins.
The Jury Clerk's Office will be able to get jurors answers or information not provided on this website. Call 610-829-6730.