What Happens During a Trial?
After you have been selected to sit on a jury, the court session will begin each time by the court officer calling for order and announcing the opening of court. Everyone rises and stands until the judge is seated on the bench. When court is adjourned the same procedure will be followed.
As a juror, you will be sitting in the jury box which will be on one side or the other of the judge’s bench. It is likely that a seat will be assigned to you.
Most trials go through four stages:
Stage 1 — Opening Statements by the lawyers for each side in which they describe to the jury their view as to what is involved in the case. Remember, what the lawyers say is not evidence. It is their own version of what the case is about and what they think the evidence is.
Stage 2 — Presentation of Evidence. This generally consists of word-of-mouth testimony of several witnesses and a variety of documents and physical evidence.
Stage 3 — Lawyers’ Closing Arguments to the jury to summarize what they think are the most important and favorable points for their side. Again, their statements are not evidence.
Stage 4 - Judge’s Instructions to the jury as to the law. The judge will indicate the issues the jury should decide and explain the process of deliberation. In a case tried before a jury, the jury must decide what happened on the basis of the evidence presented.
In this process you will be called upon to determine the credibility of witnesses, to choose between conflicting theories presented, and to decide if enough evidence has been submitted to prove a particular fact.
The judge is present to inform the jury of the law that applies to the case. This occurs at the end of the trial, but the judge may also rule on questions of law during the trial. As mentioned previously, the jury is to decide the case based only on the evidence admitted. There are certain rules regulating the introduction of evidence that may prevent some evidence from being admitted. When questions arise about these rules and their application, the judge must make a decision on whether or not to let the evidence in. Because the jury should not hear this evidence or the discussion about it, the jury may be excused, the judge may call the attorneys and the court reporter to the side of the bench for a conference, called a “side bar,” or the judge, the attorneys and the reporter may retire to the judge’s chambers. All discussion at the side bar conference or in chambers is recorded, so that it will be available if the case is appealed. After hearing the arguments of both attorneys, the judge will make a decision on the question presented. This is not a matter for jury deliberation.
These discussions may cause temporary trial delays, but they are necessary and, in the long run, may shorten the total trial process.
After all the evidence has been presented and the attorneys have made their final arguments, the judge will instruct the jury about the law which applies to the particular case being tried. Once the judge has given these instructions, the case is submitted to the jury. Any jury alternates who have been sitting on the case will be excused at this time. The jury will retire to the jury room to begin its deliberation. Please note that this is the first opportunity for jurors to speak about the facts of the case.