First the attorney for the plaintiff in a civil trial, or the deputy district attorney in a criminal trial, will tell the jury what he or she intends to prove. This is called the Opening Statement. The attorney for the defense may speak after that or may wait until after the other side presents its evidence. After the opening statements, each side in the case will present its evidence. This is done by calling witnesses, asking them questions and presenting exhibits such as photographs, papers, charts, weapons or any other evidence to prove its case. Sometimes the defense in the case will not present evidence. In a criminal case, the defendant is presumed innocent and the prosecution has the burden of establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. No criminal defendant is required to supply a defense. Each side has the opportunity to ask questions of all witnesses called to testify.
Generally, evidence is in the form of testimony given by sworn witnesses, exhibits admitted by the judge, witnesses’ sworn written depositions and any stipulations or agreements between the sides as to certain facts of the case. Judges and lawyers must follow the Evidence Code, which has been created over time to insure a fair trial. During a trial, information may come up that cannot be considered as evidence, and the Judge will tell you to not consider it when deliberating. The judge decides what evidence is proper or admissible. The judge must apply the rules of evidence according to the law. Although the judge decides what evidence you may consider, you decide if that evidence is believable and how important it is to the case.
After presentation of all the evidence, the attorneys will sum up the case from their perspectives. Taking turns, each side will tell you what he or she believes the evidence shows and why it favors his or her side. This is the closing argument. Then the judge will instruct you on your duties as jurors either before or after the attorneys present their closing arguments. The judge will also tell you about the law that applies to the case.
After instructions and closing arguments, the bailiff or court attendant will escort you to the jury room where you and the other jurors will deliberate. First, you will select one of the jurors as foreperson. He or she leads the discussion and tries to encourage everyone to join in. Do not be afraid to speak out during deliberations. The whole idea of a jury is to come to a decision after full and frank discussion of the evidence and the instructions, based on calm, unbiased reasoning. In civil cases, it takes nine jurors to reach a verdict. In criminal cases, the verdict must be unanimous. You will reach a verdict after a few hours or several days, or not at all. The foreperson will record your verdict on a form and the bailiff will tell the judge. You will return to the jury box. The judge will ask if you have reached a verdict. The foreperson will answer, handing the written verdict to the bailiff for delivery to the judge. The clerk will read it aloud and mark the record accordingly. Sometimes one or all of the parties will ask that the jury be polled. This means that the judge or clerk will ask each juror individually if this is his or her own verdict. Sometimes lawyers want your opinion of what was important to you in the case, but it is up to you to decide if you wish to discuss your jury service in that case.
Jury Service is an important part of the legal process and the constitutional system. When you get a summons, serve on your county’s juries and get to decide cases with others. This is the great thing about the United States of America, that you get a jury of your peers.
Roseville attorney Kulvinder Singh has been licensed to practice law in California since 1996. His website is www.singhlawoffice.com and telephone number is (916) 939-5151.