- Municipal Court
- Jury Duty
- Stages of Trial
Stages of Trial
An opening statement is made first by the prosecution, then by the defense. The purpose of this opening statement is to outline to the jury the facts of the case and what each side will attempt to establish through the presentation of evidence. This is only an explanation of what each side claims.
Presentation of Evidence
After both sides have been given the opportunity to make opening statements, the trial moves to the stage in which evidence is presented by each side. The prosecution first presents all the evidence that supports his/her contentions; and is then followed by the defendant who presents his evidence.
Forms of Evidence
Most evidence is presented in the form of spoken testimony of witnesses who have taken an oath to tell the truth. The party that has called the witness is the first to ask questions of that witness. This is called direct examination. After direct examination is concluded, the other party may cross-examine, or ask further questions of that witness.
After cross-examination, the party that called the witness has a final opportunity to ask questions which is called re-direct examination. You should pay close attention to each witness as they testify, not only to what they say but their manner and actions. If at any time you are unable to hear clearly, make the judge aware of the problem by raising a hand.
From time to time during the trial, you may hear either party make what are known as "objections." Objections may be made for several reasons: to the conduct of the parties; to the form of a question during the examination of a witness; to the introduction of evidence.
If the objection is deemed improper or not well founded by the judge, he/she will "overrule" the objection, and allow the proceedings to continue or the evidence to be introduced. If on the other hand the judge finds the objection to be valid and proper, he/she may "sustain" it, thereby discontinuing that conduct or question or may refuse to allow the introduction of evidence.
Under the rules of law governing the introduction and admission of evidence, it may be objected to if believed improper by either side. A judge is the sole authority on what evidence is proper. Since the evidence may be excluded, the jury is usually not allowed to hear arguments as to admissibility.
Thus, the judge may send the jury out of the courtroom to allow the parties to argue to him/her whether the evidence should be admitted. Sometimes evidence gets before the jury before the opposing party has a chance to object. The judge may order the jury to disregard such evidence completely, and if so ordered, it should be disregarded and not considered as evidence.
Final or Closing Arguments
After both sides have had an opportunity to present their evidence and have both "rested" their cases, they are given a chance to make final or closing arguments to the jury.
First, the prosecutor, followed by the defendant make closing arguments in which they sum up the evidence and testimony and try to persuade the jury to find in their favor. These arguments, like the opening statements, should be listened to attentively but should not be considered as evidence in themselves.
At the end of the final arguments, the judge will instruct you on the law that applies to the case, and you must apply that law to the facts as you find them in arriving at your verdict.
You are bound under your oath to give full effect to the law as the judge states it to you. You must pay close attention to his/her instructions.
Following the instructions, or charge by the judge, the bailiff will escort you to the jury room where you will conduct your deliberations. The foreperson designated by the judge presides during the deliberations. The foreperson acts as the chairman of the jury. It is the chairman’s duty to see that discussion is carried on in a free and orderly manner, that the matters and issues submitted for the decisions are fully and freely discussed, and that every juror is given an opportunity to express themselves.
In the Jury Room
After you retire to the jury room, you are entitled to have all exhibits brought to you. Should you feel that it is necessary to be re-instructed, or receive additional instruction on the law or to have certain testimony read to you, you may so inform the judge through the bailiff.
You should not, however, make such requests lightly, for they can be answered only by returning the jury to the courtroom where the court will resume in full session. The procedure may require considerable time, but is justifiable if you seriously believe it to be necessary or helpful to you in discharging your duty.
The judge will carefully explain to you the degree of proof required to support particular findings, and you should pay the same careful attention to his instructions.
Quite often in the jury room differences of opinion arise among the jurors. When this occurs, each juror should express their opinions and reasons therefore. By the process of careful and thorough reasoning, it is generally possible for jurors to reach a verdict.
A juror should not hesitate to change their mind where there is good reason for doing so, but one who has a definite opinion on a question should not change their opinion unless they conscientiously are moved to do so as a result of deliberations, their consideration of the views of their colleagues, and their own further thought on the matter.
It would be wrong for a juror to refuse to listen to the arguments and opinions of the others, or to deny the right of another juror to express their own judgment. They should vote only according to their own honest convictions, arrived at after a full and free discussion with their fellow jurors.
After a verdict, or after a mistrial, or disagreement, jurors are under no duty or obligation to discuss what took place in the jury room with the lawyers in the case or anyone else.