When a civil action leads to a trial, a jury is selected. The selection process general involves the parties or attorneys for the parties to question potential jurors from a pool of jury candidates. Once a jury is selected, the jury trial moves through various steps ending in a final decision.
How Is a Jury Selected?
It's only a matter of time when a jury summons appears in your mailbox requesting you to serve on a jury in either a civil or criminal trial. Potential jurors, or citizens who listen to testimony and review evidence and render a decision on a case, are selected randomly from those who hold a valid driver's license, or who are registered voters. But only about 20% of potential jurors summonsed to serve are chosen to actually serve on a jury. Regardless of the low percentage, it is one's duty and obligation by law to respond when summonsed to serve.
While state courts may have different penalties for not responding to a jury summons, it is required that any person who is summonsed to serve on a jury do so. A few exceptions or exclusions are made. For instance, in the state of New York, a summonsed juror who does not respond is subject to civil or criminal penalties. In the state of California, a jury dodger is subject to fines and can even be placed in custody. Some states incentivize serving as a juror by offering free parking or discounted meals at local restaurants. Lastly, the law specifically prohibits an employer from punishing an employee who is summonsed to serve on jury duty.
Once a Juror Responds, What Happens Next?
There are a few things to know about a jury before we explore what happens next:
- Most civil courts require a jury of twelve people with two alternate jurors at the ready.
- Criminal trial of a serious nature requires twelve jurors.
- Trials for misdemeanor charges can be fewer than twelve people.
- Most courts do not require a unanimous vote; it can be either a 3/4th or 5/6th vote depending on the court.
To assemble the petit jury of twelve jurors chosen to examine the facts and render a decision, parties to the case or their attorneys will conduct voir dire, which involves the questioning of all potential jurors. This is done to detect any biases (like familiarity) with either party or attorneys in the case, knowledge of case facts, prejudices, occupation, or even personal views on a related issue.
Once a jury is selected, the plaintiff and the defendant have the right to a certain number of peremptory challenges in where either party may dismiss a selected juror without providing a reason for dismissal. This differs from a challenge for cause. In this challenge, either party must set forth a justified and accepted reason for the juror dismissal, like bias or potential impartiality. In either challenge, a potential juror cannot be dismissed solely on race or gender.
On a side note, in J.E.B. v. Alabama (1994), a paternity and child support case, the attorney for the respondent in the suit used 9 out of 10 challenges to remove all males from the jury in hopes of assembling a more sympathetic jury. It was upheld that these challenges were unlawful, and it is illegal to discriminate against a juror solely based on race or gender.
Once all challenges have been made, the jury will remain together for the duration of the trial. Some attorneys hire a shadow jury, which is a mock jury assigned to act as a real jury by listening to the case as it unfolds, analyzing the evidence and rendering a decision to a jury consultant. This jury matches the demographic of the real jury but sits in the spectator area each day of the trial. On a daily basis, this jury reports back to the consultant who shares the information with the hiring attorney.
This common practice helps the attorney better plan strategies to win cases. Some information a shadow jury might notice is how the plaintiff or defendant appears in court, his behaviors, and actions. In other words, the shadow jury works as the eyes and ears of the hiring attorney.
Steps in a Civil Trial
Now that the jury has been selected, the civil trial will move through several steps:
- Opening statements
- Examination of witnesses
- Presentation of evidence
- Closing arguments
- Jury instructions
Opening statements are given by both parties and state the reason the parties are in court. No evidence or witness testimony is given yet. These statements are merely an account of the actions and the roles of each party in incurring or causing damage, always keeping in mind that the plaintiff has the burden of proof for any allegations against the defendant.
Next, each party conducts an examination of witnesses by questioning any and all witnesses to the action. Witnesses are called to the stand and sworn in to tell the truth. A couple of things happen when witnesses are called to testify. Each party questions their own witnesses. When this questioning is over, the parties can cross-examine the other party's witnesses.
This is done to look for holes in the story or to detect missing or false information. Once completed, the side that originally called the witness can redirect examination, or ask further questions of the witness in order to clear up any misunderstandings.
Presentation of evidence is next and involves presenting the jury with evidence in the case. Evidence can be photos, products, video, or other tangible items that help to prove or disprove the action.
Once the witnesses have been questioned and evidence has been presented, both parties make closing arguments, which are statements that summarize the case for the jury. Persuasive in nature, closing arguments serve to solidify each party's position.
Finally, the judge will provide jury instructions by defining legal standards and principles. This includes instructing the jury on legal findings necessary to decide on the outcome.
Rarely is there a hung jury, or a jury that cannot come to a decision, because the burden of proof is generally lower in these types of trials and is based on how compelling or convincing the evidence is, not the amount or quantity of the evidence presented. If a jury is deadlocked and cannot reach a verdict, the judge will declare a mistrial and a new trial will take place.
In sum, it is a brief overview on the specific laws related to the case and how to apply them. From there, the jury deliberates, or decides, and renders a verdict. The verdict is first communicated to the judge, and the judge then relays the verdict to the parties.
Let's take a moment to recap.
A juror is chosen randomly from a list of those possessing a driver's license or those that are registered to vote. Once summonsed to serve, a potential juror must show up to court or will be considered a jury dodger. Jury dodgers, depending on the state, may have fines or even jail time as a penalty. Additionally, no employer shall penalize an employee who serves on jury duty.
All potential jurors will be assembled in a room to prepare for voir dire. Attorneys for the parties or even the parties themselves can question jurors to rule out those who have biases, like familiarity with the case or an unpopular opinion regarding the issues of the case.
Parties to the case have the right to peremptory challenges by dismissing potential jurors for no stated reason. Jurors can also be dismissed for reasons of impartiality. However, a juror cannot be dismissed solely based on race or gender. The petit jury of twelve people chosen to serve will remain together for the duration of the trial.
Sometimes a shadow jury is hired by one of the attorneys to act as a watchdog. These mock jurors sit as spectators but act like the real jury. Each day they share information about the trial with the attorney. This feedback is used to develop strategies for the rest of the trial.
Now that the jury is chosen, the civil litigation process begins. Here is the process. Both parties begin with opening statements. This involves telling the jury the details of the case. Next, each party examines and cross-examines any and all witnesses, and then evidence is presented.
Once all witnesses have been questioned and all evidence has been analyzed, both parties make their closing arguments. This is the final opportunity for the parties to persuade the jury. The judge gives the jury instructions on legal principles, and after deliberation, a verdict is rendered. The judge always has the final say in the verdict.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify and describe a juror's role in civil litigation, and the steps involved in the selection of jurors as well as the stages of a civil trial.