Anatomy of a Jury Trial

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Hopefully, you have never had the misfortune of being a party in a jury trial - criminal or civil - and never will. However, odds are that you will one day be called as a juror. Whether a case is criminal or civil (a lawsuit seeking money compensation), there are six major phases: Jury Selection, Opening Statements, Testimony and Evidence, Closing Arguments, Jury Instructions, and Deliberation and Verdict.

Jury Selection

The first phase of a trial is Jury Selection. A pool of jurors (usually about 50) is led into the courtroom and each juror has a number from 1 to 50. The attorneys or the judge ask the jurors questions to determine whether they know any of the parties, attorneys, or witnesses or whether they have had any experiences or have any strong feelings on certain issues which would not allow them to be unbiased and impartial. Once the questioning is complete, each attorney can ask that certain jurors be stricken from the jury pool due to some disclosed bias or prejudice. After the judge rules on these “for cause” challenges, each attorney can also strike a set number of other jurors (usually around 4) who they think would likely favor the other side. These are called “peremptory strikes.”Once the strikes are complete, the first 12 remaining jurors constitute the jury panel for the trial.”

Opening Statement

After Jury Selection, Opening Statements are presented to the jury. In a criminal case, the Commonwealth goes first. In a civil case, the Plaintiff (the person suing) goes first. The Opening Statement is intended to give the jurors a “roadmap” of the trial - to describe to the jury what will be established. Normally, the facts of the case are outlined and the witnesses and important evidence are discussed. Argument is not permitted.

In either a criminal or civil case, the defense attorney can decide to give an Opening Statement immediately or defer the statement until after the Commonwealth or Plaintiff has presented its testimony and evidence.

Testimony And Evidence

After Opening Statements, the parties present their Testimony and Evidence. The Commonwealth or Plaintiff goes first by calling witnesses and offering evidence. Each witness may be cross-examined by the defense. Next, the criminal or civil Defendant may call witnesses and introduce evidence to support its defenses. In a civil case, the Plaintiff may present witnesses or evidence in rebuttal to the Defendant’s case.

Closing Arguments

Once all the testimony is complete, the attorneys deliver Closing Arguments. During the Closing Arguments, the attorneys are able to argue why the facts and applicable law should lead to a verdict in their favor. In a criminal case, the defense goes first and the Commonwealth last. In a civil case, the Plaintiff goes first. After the initial Argument, the Defendant presents its Closing Argument. Finally, after the Defendant’s Closing Argument, the Plaintiff’s attorney can present a brief rebuttal Argument.

Jury Instructions

After the Closing Arguments, the judge must give the jury instructions on the law applicable to the case so that the jury can reach a proper verdict.

Deliberation And Verdict

After the Jury Instructions, the jury deliberates in order to reach a Verdict. A jury foreperson is chosen, who is supposed to lead the Deliberations. In a criminal case, a unanimous verdict of all the jurors is required or the case will end in a mistrial and need to be retried. In a civil case, a unanimous verdict is not required. Instead, a verdict can stand as long as 5/6 of the jury agrees on the verdict. Once the jury decides the case, the verdict is announced in court, which marks the end of the trial.

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