Order of Events at a Trial

trial courtroomThere are two basic types of cases: criminal and civil (including family cases).

A criminal case results when a person is accused of committing a crime. You as a juror must decide whether a person charged is guilty or not guilty. The accused person is presumed innocent, and the State of Texas, represented by the District or County Attorney, must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

A civil case results from a disagreement or dispute between two or more parties. In a civil case, you as a juror answer questions of disputed facts based upon the testimony and evidence admitted by the Judge. The answers to these questions are called the verdict.

The process of a trial and your role in it as a juror are as follows:

  1. Jury Selection

    Cases will usually be heard by juries of 6 or 12 jurors. A larger group, called a panel, will be sent to the trial court (courtroom) where the jurors will be questioned under the supervision of the Judge. A juror may be excused from the panel if it is shown that the juror cannot act impartially concerning the case to be heard. Each side is allowed to remove a given number of jurors from the panel without having to show any reason. However, a juror may not be removed because of his or her race or gender. The trial jury will be the first 6 or 12 of the remaining jurors on the panel.

  2. Voir Dire

    Voir Dire is a way for the parties to select a fair and impartial jury. Under the justice system, you may be questioned by each of the lawyers before they decide to remove a certain number of jurors from the jury panel. For example, the lawyer may ask you questions to see if you are connected to the trial or if you have any prejudice or bias toward anyone in the trial. These questions are not intended to embarrass you, but rather to help the lawyers in the jury selection process. You may ask the Judge to allow you to answer some questions away from the other jurors.

    Individual Voir Dire

    This is the juror’s opportunity to let the court know of military obligations, issues with sequestration, or any future event that could potentially conflict with participating in a jury panel.

  3. Opening Statements

    Opening Statements introduce the case to the jury. The lawyer for each side may explain the case, the evidence it will present, and the issues for you to decide.

  4. Presentation of Evidence

    The evidence consists of the testimony of witnesses and the exhibits allowed by the Judge. Exhibits admitted into evidence will be available to the jury for examination during deliberations. You have a right to ask for them. You will be asked to make decisions regarding disputed facts; therefore, your attention at all times is critically important. Juror note-taking or the submission of questions by jurors to witnesses will be determined by the Judge.

  5. Ruling by the Judge

    The Judge may be asked to decide questions of law during the trial. Occasionally, the Judge may ask jurors to leave the courtroom while the lawyers make their legal arguments. The jurors should understand that such interruptions are needed to make sure that their verdict is based upon proper evidence, as determined by the Judge under the Rules of Evidence. You may give the evidence whatever weight you consider appropriate.

  6. Instructions to the Jury

    The following instructions will be given to jurors during the trial, along with any instructions the judge may also have:

    The following instructions are court orders. They apply until the trial is over and I tell you they no longer apply. Failure to abide by these court orders will result in consequences including but not limited to contempt of court. Punishment for contempt of court will be fines or imprisonment in jail. You can be fined or jailed for violating these court orders.

    • Do not mingle with nor talk to the lawyers, the witnesses, the parties, or any other person who might be connected with or interested in this case, except for casual greetings. They have to follow these same instructions and you will understand it when they do.
    • Do not accept from, nor give to, any of those persons any favors however slight, such as rides, food or refreshments.
    • Do not discuss anything about this case, or even mention it to anyone whomsoever, or in the presence of others including your spouse, partner, or significant other. Do not allow anyone to mention it in your hearing until you are discharged as jurors or excused from this case. If anyone attempts to discuss the case with you or in front of you report it to the bailiff at once. The bailiff is ordered to inform me of all such reports by jurors.
    • Do not post or read about the case or subject matter of the case or persons in the case on blogs, internet news sites, or social media including but not limited to Wikipedia, MySpace, Twitter, or Facebook. You can post that you are on jury duty and how long you expect to be on jury duty. That is ALL you are allowed to write or text about. You cannot post anything about whether a verdict has or will be reached or when a verdict has or will be reached or announced in court.
    • Do not read or send text messages in the courtroom. Do not have cell phones, Blackberries, or any other device you may use to communicate with others on while you are in the courtroom. While you are deliberating your cell phones, Blackberries, and any other deice you may use to communicate with others will be removed from the jury room.
    • Do not even discuss this case amongst yourselves until after you have heard all of the evidence, the court’s charge, and the attorney’s arguments, and until I have sent you to the jury room to consider you verdict.
    • Do not make personal inspections, observations, investigations, or experiments nor personally view premises, things or articles not produced in court. Do not let anyone else do any of these things for you. All evidence must be presented in open court so that each side may question the witnesses and make proper objection. If you know of, or learn anything about, this case except from the evidence admitted during the course of this trial, you should tell me about it at once. You have just taken an oath that you will render a verdict on the evidence submitted to you under my rulings.
    • Do not tell other jurors your own personal experiences or those of other persons, nor relate any information you obtained outside of the courtroom about any aspect of the case. A juror may have knowledge of matters such as business, technical, or professional matters or he may have expert knowledge or opinions, or he may know what happened in this or some other lawsuit. To tell the other jurors any of this information is a violation of these instructions.
    • Do not seek information contained in law books, dictionaries, public or private records, the internet, television, newspapers, blogs, social media, or elsewhere which is not admitted in evidence. Do not research anything about this case, the parties, attorneys or any subject matter connected to the case.
    • Do not discuss or consider attorney’s fees unless evidence about attorney’s fees is admitted.
    • Do not consider, discuss nor speculate whether or not any party is or is not protected in whole or in part by insurance of any kind.

    The Texas law requires investigation and hearings about proof of any violation of the rules of jury conduct. Jurors and others may be called to testify in open court or in chambers about acts of jury misconduct. I caution you to follow carefully all instructions which I have given you, as well as others which you later receive while this case is on trial.

    When a juror violates these instructions a mistrial may be declared. Sometimes the appellate courts will order that the verdict be thrown out due to jury misconduct. Having to start over and try a case again is very expensive for the parties, lawyers, and taxpayers. Trying the case over also creates stress and hardship for all involved.

    As a judge I am very serious about my obligation to see that cases are tried fairly, efficiently, and according to the law. I do not want to have to punish citizens who give up their time to serve on juries. But please understand that I will ensure that all laws regarding jury conduct are followed and that all violations of those laws are addressed.

  7. Closing Arguments

    After the Charge of the Court, the lawyers have the opportunity to summarize the evidence in their closing arguments and to try to persuade the jury to accept their client’s view of the case.

  8. Deliberation and Verdict

    Following closing arguments, the jury is sent to deliberate. When the jury has answered the questions asked of them, they shall return their verdict. The verdict must be based solely on the evidence presented by the parties, the Charge of the Court, and the rules of law provided by the Judge.

    You have the right to communicate with the Judge regarding any matters affecting your deliberations, including but not limited to:

    • Physical comfort
    • Special needs
    • Any questions regarding evidence
    • The Charge of the Court
  9. During deliberation, if it becomes necessary to communicate with the Judge, the bailiff or the officer of the court will deliver jurors’ notes to the Judge. This information is not intended to take the place of the instruction given by the Judge in any case. In the event of conflict, the Judge’s instructions will prevail.

    When in doubt, ask the Judge.

  10. Afterwards

    After you are discharged from jury service, you are released from the obligation of secrecy. You will then be free to discuss the case and your deliberations with anyone. However, you are also free to decline to discuss the case and your deliberations if you wish.