Jury Selection: Once you report to a
courtroom, you and the other potential jurors will be escorted into the
courtroom by a bailiff. The first twelve to eighteen names on a random
list of jurors will be called. These people will take seats in a jury box.
The rest of you will remain seated in the courtroom. The judge will
explain what the case is about and introduce the lawyers and parties to
you. All prospective jurors will be required to agree to truthfully answer
all questions asked.
Next, the judge and/or the attorneys will question
each one of you seated in the jury box to find out if you would be an
appropriate juror in the particular case.
Voir dire questioning may take more than one day.
Carefully follow the directions of the judge and courtroom staff regarding
date and time to return. If you are going to be late, immediately contact
the clerk of the courtroom to which you have been assigned and explain
your situation. Remember, the trial cannot proceed until everyone is
present. If you do not have a good excuse, the judge may fine you for
Occasionally, issues arise in trial preparation or
events occur during a trial which could not be anticipated. When this
happens, the judge and the parties may need to address the matter outside
of your presence. You should not speculate about what is going on. Rest
assured that the judge respects your time and will make every effort not to waste it.
Challenges: An attorney may "challenge you
for cause." This means the attorney will ask the judge to excuse you from
the jury for a specific legal reason. Each lawyer has an unlimited number
of challenges for cause. Each attorney also has the right to a certain
number of peremptory challenges. That is, the attorney may ask that you be
excused without giving any reason at all. If this happens, do not take it
personally. The lawyer is merely exercising a right given by law. If you
are excused for any reason, return to the jury assembly room for further
After the required number of jurors has been chosen,
the jury panel is sworn to try the case.
What to expect if sworn as a Juror
Admonishment: If you are selected as a
prospective juror in a particular case, the judge will admonish you not to
speak with any other juror or other person about any subjects connected
with the case until the case is submitted for deliberation. In addition,
you are not to allow any juror or other person to speak to you about
subjects related to the case.
If you were to discuss the facts of the case, or your
impressions of it, with a fellow juror, your family, friends or any other
person, you would be exposing your mind to outside influences. Remember
that all cases must be decided solely on the evidence received in the
In addition, the admonition that you neither form nor
express opinions on the case requires that you keep an open mind until all
evidence has been presented and the case has been submitted to you and
your fellow jurors for deliberation. Even an inadvertent violation of this
instruction would be a violation of your oath as a juror.
You will be asked to wear a badge so that you will be
recognized as a juror and avoid subjecting yourself to any inappropriate
discussions related to the case. If you believe someone has deliberately
tried to speak to you about the case, you must report the incident to the
How the Trial Proceeds: Jurors serve in two
kinds of cases, criminal and civil. In a criminal
case, the plaintiff is a prosecutor who represents the State of
California. The prosecutor alleges that the defendant committed a crime.
The prosecution has the burden of proving each element of the crimes
charged beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, a person or
entity – the plaintiff – asks the court to protect some right or help
recover money or property from another person or entity – the defendant.
There is a different burden of proof for civil cases.
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. The attorney for the defense may speak after that or may
wait until after the other side presents its evidence.
Presentation of the 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
Generally speaking, evidence can come 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.
Instructions to the Jury
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.
In the Jury Deliberation Room
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.
When you have reached your verdict – which may come after a few hours
or several days – the foreperson will record your verdict on an official
form. The bailiff will tell the judge you are ready and 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. The jury’s service will
then be complete in most cases.
Parties involved in a case generally seek to settle their differences
to avoid the expense, time and risks of a trial. Sometimes the case is
settled or resolved just a few moments before the trial begins or even
during the course of a trial. Jurors may have already been assigned to a
case and may be asked to wait while last minute negotiations are taking
place. Your time is not wasted – your very presence in the court
case does settle and the judge releases you, return to the jury assembly
room for further instruction. Your name may be put back in the random pool
for assignment to another case that day.