Consumer Legal Information

Information for Trial Jurors

Your Country Call

As a citizen, you are a partner and shareholder in the state and nation. You have long employed the privileges and protection of your government. Now you are called into service. You are summoned to serve for a short time as a juror. It's an honor, a duty and a privilege to serve one's country, both in peace and in war. All true patriots welcome the opportunity.

Justice Call

In a country where the life, liberty and property of each of us is safe and secure, it is necessary that there be courts of justice in which the disputes that arise between people can be settled justly and peaceably. Also, it is necessary that persons charged with committing a crime shall be fairly and justly tried. The public safety and welfare must be protected on the one hand, and private rights and liberties must be safeguarded on the other. It is the business of every citizen to see that this is done, and it is a duty which the people must do for themselves if life, liberty and property are to be kept secure for yourself and your children.

Your Interest

Suppose Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith have a lawsuit. They may be strangers to you, and in one sense you do not care who wins. As a citizen, one of the people, you do care and it is very important to you and all the people that there should be a way by which disputes between people can be settled peaceably and justly. Some day you may become involved in a dispute, and you would want that settled peaceably and justly. John Doe may be accused of a crime. He may be a stranger and you may never have heard of the offense with which he is charged. Still, it is important to you as a citizen that the laws should be enforced as to punish and discourage crime in order that you may be safe and secure in your person, your property and your rights. It is equally important to you that no innocent person should be sent to prison, for if that could happen to another, it could also happen to you.

Service On A Jury A Rare Event

Many citizens are never called to serve as a juror. If you are called, you may never be called again. As a citizen, it is your duty and your business to serve if it is possible, and it is your business to uphold the laws of your country.

Excuse From Jury Duty

It may be inconvenient for you to serve on the jury. You may even lose money by being kept away from your work or business. Unfortunately, this cannot be helped if citizens are to take part in seeing that justice is done in upholding the laws of the land. You owe much to your government, and all responsible citizens should be willing to serve as jurors when called upon unless this would cause you unusual loss or hardship. Courts try to be reasonable. If serving would cause great loss or hardship, or if you are suffering from any sickness or ailment so that you feel that you cannot serve, you should report this to the clerk of the court or to the judge before the date shown in your summons and bring documentation to support your reasons for wanting to be excused (i.e. doctors letters, non-refundable airline tickets, etc.). Your situation will be considered, and it is possible that an excuse can be granted.

Upholding The Laws

The oath taken by jurors requires each of them to accept and apply the law as it is. Jurors are not free to disregard the law because he or she thinks the law might be better otherwise. Laws are made, repealed or changed by those who are elected to make laws. Jurors do not make the laws -- they only apply them, and must be careful not to take or use power which does not belong to them. People look at the law as it is written to know what their rights are and decide what they may or may not do with safety. Such people should not be expected to guess whether a court or jury will uphold the law. That is a sworn duty.

Hasty Judgment To Be Avoided

The parties and lawyers involved in a lawsuit have spent considerable time, money and energy preparing for the trial. Each of them will bring in evidence and argument to prove their side of the case. Jurors must be patient and careful not to form conclusions until they have heard all of the evidence and argument. Once all the evidence is presented, the judge will instruct the jurors about the law that applies to the case.

Power And Duty Of Judge And Jury

During the trial the judge decides all disputes about the law and the rules for trying the case. At the close, the judge will instruct the jurors on the law and the principal questions to be decided. The case is then turned over to the jury. The power and the responsibility moves from the bench to the jury room. The jury must decide what the facts are. They must decide what testimony was more believable and compelling. If it is a case involving injury to a person or property, you will decide who is responsible and what amount of the damages or what the punishment may be. In some cases, you may decide both. If it is a criminal case, you will decide whether the defendant is guilty. All the power given by the people is in your hands. Yours is the duty and yours is the responsibility. If you do your duty well, your verdict is generally final.

CIVIL JURY CASES

The Parties And Pleadings

A person starting a lawsuit is known as the plaintiff. A person who is being sued is called a defendant. The plaintiff's claim and demand is stated in a document called a complaint, or petition. The defendant's response is called an answer. If the defendant has a claim against the plaintiff, such claim is called a counterclaim. If a counterclaim is made, the plaintiff's response is called a reply. These papers, called the pleadings, have been exchanged between the parties sometime before the trial commences. If a party has more than one claim against the other, each claim may be stated as a cause of action. The parties may include several persons or corporations as either plaintiffs or defendants, who usually present their respective sides of the case through lawyers they have chosen to represent each of them.

Selection Of The Jury

A group of citizens qualified to serve as jurors has been summoned. The entire group is called the jury panel. The first step in a trial is to select from this panel the number required to try the case -- usually 12 in state court and 6 in federal court. Names are drawn from those present until the jury box is filled. Those called are required to answer truthfully all questions asked of them touching their qualifications to act as a juror in the case.

After a short statement telling what the case is about and the parties who are involved, the lawyers or the judge will question the persons in the box to see if they are qualified to act as fair and impartial jurors. Anyone who is related to any of the parties, or who has unfinished business with one of the lawyers, or who knows so much about the case that he or she already has an opinion, will be challenged for cause and excused. In addition, each side has a right to excuse three jurors without giving any reason. These are called peremptory challenges. For example, the lawyer may suspect that a prospective juror has had some experience such as a similar lawsuit, or has some social or business connection with one party or that there is some other reason which, although not a legal ground of challenge for cause, may yet be good reason for excusing the juror. The lawyer or judge may ask you questions about your personal life and beliefs, but they will not pry or embarrass you. You should answer these questions fairly, and if there is any reason why you feel that you should not serve as a juror, you should so inform the judge. When all the challenges are used up the jurors who have been called but not excused are sworn to try the case upon the merits.

Oath Of A Juror In A Civil Case

Each juror is required to take a solemn oath (or to affirm) to "well and truly try the matters in issue and a true verdict render according to the evidence and the law." When you take this oath you become a judge of all questions of fact, and are in duty bound to act fairly and impartially. You are no longer free to act upon your feelings or emotions, but are bound to use your reason and judgment.

Opening Statements

The plaintiff's lawyer may then make a short opening statement telling you what the plaintiff claims, and what they believe the evidence will be to prove this claim. The defendant's lawyer will make a similar statement as to the defendant's claims and the evidence expected to be produced. You should remember that these lawyers' statements are not evidence but only explanations of what each side claims. The claims must be proved by evidence.

Witnesses And Evidence

Anything which tends to prove or disprove a claim about the facts is called evidence. Evidence may be something in writing, or it may be an article such as a gun, a photo or the like. Evidence may also be the statement of a person, in which case it is called testimony. If a witness cannot be present, the testimony may be taken before trial and reduced to writing, or to videotape. Such testimony must be taken under oath and both sides have been given a chance to be present. An example of written testimony is a deposition, and such testimony may be read or shown to the jury and should be given the same weight and consideration as though the witness testified in person in court under oath. Testimony may also come from prior hearings or trials.

Examination Of Witnesses

The witnesses are sworn (or affirm) to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If the lawyer has called the client or some disinterested person, the person called is "the lawyer's witness," but if the lawyer has called the opposite party, the person called is referred to as an adverse witness. A lawyer who has called a witness proceeds with direct examination. In so doing, the lawyer asks questions to bring out the facts the lawyer wishes to show. When the direct examination is finished, the lawyer on the other side may cross-examine, which means that the lawyer may ask questions. When cross-examination is finished, the first lawyer may ask questions on redirect examination to clear up points developed in cross-examination. To keep out improper matter, witnesses are allowed only to answer the questions asked. Both sides may ask questions and find out all the witness knows that is proper. If the witness makes a statement which is not in answer to a question, the judge may strike it and instruct you to disregard it. Moreover, the lawyers for either side may make objections during witness examination. This means that the lawyer believes there is an issue with the evidence being presented by the other side. The judge will let you know when you are to disregard certain evidence or testimony.

Hearing And Seeing The Witness

Each juror should pay close attention to the witness who is testifying, both to hear what the witness said and watch the witness' manner and actions. If you cannot hear plainly, do not hesitate to interrupt and let the judge know.

Delays During Trial

During the trial there may be delays for any one of many reasons. Most times the judge will do his or her best to keep the jurors informed when delays occur. However, you may not know the reason for a delay and should not guess at it. Very often a delay actually saves time and more quickly brings the case to an end. Be patient.

Resting The Case

When the plaintiff has presented all of the evidence believed to support the claims, the lawyer announces that the plaintiff "rests." When defendant is through, the defendant's lawyer also "rests."

Defense And Rebuttal

The defendant calls witnesses and offers evidence when the plaintiff first rests. Then the plaintiff may offer evidence in rebuttal to explain or deny the defendant's evidence.

Juror's Conduct During Trial

There are certain rules that a juror should follow throughout the trial in order to be fair to all sides. These are:

Inspecting the Scene: It may be that the suit involves some place or thing, such as the scene of an accident, the operation of traffic lights or the like. If it is thought necessary and proper that the jury should make an inspection, the judge will send the jury to the scene, accompanied by one or more bailiffs. It would be improper for any juror to make an inspection unless ordered by the court. Conditions may have changed. An unauthorized inspection might force a retrial of the case, which would cost the parties, the court and the state more time and money.

Discussing the Case: During the trial, jurors should not talk about the case with each other, or with other persons, or allow other people to talk about it in your presence. If anyone should insist upon talking about the case to you, tell that person that you are on the jury and must not listen. If that person insists, then learn the person's name if you can and report the matter to the judge at the first opportunity.

Radio and Newspaper Accounts: Jurors should not to listen to radio or television accounts of the trial or read newspaper or magazine articles about the trial or the parties during the trial. Such articles sometimes give one a biased or unbalanced idea of the case.

Talking With Parties or Lawyers: Do not talk with parties, witnesses or lawyers during a trial. Someone may believe that something unfair is going on. Jurors are permitted to discuss the case after the trial has concluded.

Promptness: It is most important that jurors should not be late in reporting for duty. One juror who is late wastes the time of all the other jurors, the judge, the lawyers, the witnesses, the parties and the court employees. A lawyer, witness or juror may be fined for contempt of court for being tardy.

Guessing At The Judge's Opinion

While a trial is going on, jurors sometimes try to guess at what the judge thinks about it, or the way the judge thinks it should be decided. This is a mistake. The judge will not intentionally form or express an opinion on questions of fact until all the evidence has been presented, and the judge may not then express any opinion on the facts. It is the jury's responsibility to decide what the facts are if there is any dispute about them.

Arguments

After all the evidence has been given, each lawyer will make an argument to the jury, giving the reasons why the lawyer's side should win. If the testimony of witnesses is contrary to each other, the lawyer will tell you why the witnesses on one side should be believed rather than those on the other side.

You should listen to these arguments carefully; remember the lawyer is giving only one side of the case and it is not evidence but only a statement of what the lawyer believes the evidence shows. Ultimately, the jury will decide what the evidence shows. Of course, jurors should not make up their minds on anything until all evidence, argument and the instructions of the judge have been heard.

Instructions

Toward the close of the case the judge will read to you the written instructions, which will tell you what fact issues you are to decide and what law applies to the case. You should listen to these instructions very carefully and try to understand and remember them. The judge will try to give you all the instructions you need.

CONDUCT AND DELIBERATION IN THE JURY ROOM

Foreperson

Your first duty upon retiring at the close of the case is to select your foreperson. The foreperson acts as chairperson. It is the duty of the foreperson to see that discussion is carried on in a sensible and orderly fashion, to see that the issues submitted for your decision are fully and fairly discussed and that jurors have a chance to say what they think upon every question. Where ballots are required, the foreperson will see that it is done and sign any written requests made of the judge. In selecting your foreperson, it is best to select someone of experience and general knowledge, if possible. A good foreperson keeps the discussion focused, which will usually save time and secure a proper decision.

Secrecy

Discussion in the jury room should never be so loud that it can be heard outside. Until a verdict is announced, no outsider should know what goes on in the jury room.

Entertainment

Until a verdict is reached, jurors should not play cards or read newspapers or magazines, but should attend to the business before them.

Exhibits

If any papers or other things marked as "exhibits" are sent out for your examination, care should be taken not to injure or change them in any way. No markings should be put on them.

Views Of Others

Quite often differences of opinion arise between jurors. When that happens, jurors should say what they think and why they think it. By reasoning the matter out, it generally is possible for jurors to agree. As a juror, you should not hesitate to change your mind if you decide that your first opinion was not right, but you should not change it unless your reason and judgment is changed. It is wrong for jurors to try to bully other jurors into changing their minds. It is just as wrong for a juror to refuse to listen to the arguments and opinions of others -- in other words, try not to be bullheaded and stubborn. When you have listened to all opinions, and have reasoned the matter out and formed your own judgment, you should, of course, stick to it unless you are persuaded to change your mind. You should vote according to your honest judgment under the instructions and the evidence. If everyone is fair and reasonable, a jury can almost always agree. If a jury cannot agree within a reasonable time, it generally means that the judge will declare a mistrial, and the parties will get a totally new trial. This is a great expense to the parties and the state, so jurors are expected to be fair, reasonable and courteous to each other, and try to reach an agreement which is a "true verdict."

The Issues

In the instructions, the judge will tell you the "issues" or questions you are to decide. If there is more than one question, it is usually best to consider them one at a time, after such general discussion as the jury thinks proper. You should be concerned with only those issues which the instructions have submitted to you for your decision and nothing else.

Law Of The Case

In the instructions, the judge will tell you what the law is for each case, and you must apply the law to the facts as you find them to be. These instructions will explain to you what the parties must prove as to each issue.

Your Verdict

Your findings on a disputed question of fact are almost always final and will very seldom be set aside by the judge or a higher court, so in all verdicts you must be careful to be just.

CRIMINAL CASES

In General

With some exceptions, which will be pointed out, criminal and civil cases are tried under much the same rules and in much the same manner.

The Charge

The charge or complaint is made in writing. If made by a grand jury, it is called an indictment. If made by an attorney for the government, it is called an information or a complaint. If more than one offense is charged, they may be combined but they are separately stated and each charge is called a count. For instance, an information may charge that the defendant (count 1) robbed the complainant and (count 2) assaulted and beat the complainant.

The Parties

The person charged is the defendant. The person who made the original complaint to the authorities, usually the victim, is called the complainant, complaining witness or prosecuting witness. The state is the prosecutor, and all crimes are prosecuted in the name of the state, for when a crime is committed, it is the laws of the state that are broken and the offense is against the people of the state.

Differences From A Civil Case

The principal differences in the manner of trial between civil and criminal cases are these: (1) The criminal defendant makes no written answer, but has previously announced a plea or defense to the court. (2) More persuasive proof is required to find one guilty of a crime than is required to return a verdict in civil cases. Guilt of crime must be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt," while a claim must be proved in a civil case by a "preponderance of the evidence" -- that is, if the evidence in favor of one side is more probably true than not true. (3) In a criminal case, every one of the jurors must agree upon the verdict, but in civil cases in state court only three-fourths of the jury need to agree in order to return a verdict. All verdicts in federal court must be unanimous. If there are other differences of importance, the judge will point them out to you in the instructions.

Conclusion

The importance of your position as a juror cannot be overstated. It might be that others could serve as well as you and with less cost and trouble, but you have been regularly drawn according to law. People might be suspicious about a substitute who might have to be specially selected to take your place if you were excused. We hope you can and will serve. We think you will find the service interesting. We believe and expect that you will do your full duty as a citizen and juror.

(Revised December 2006)
Need to find a lawyer? Try Oklahoma Find a Lawyer.com to search for one near you.