If You Are Called to Be a Juror
If you are a current juror for Ionia County Circuit Court you must call 616-527-5316 the evening before you are to report for an update.
Your Role as a Juror
You’ve heard the term “jury of one’s peers.” In our country the job of determining the facts and reaching a just decision rests, not with “the government” or any other “higher authority” but with a jury, which is a small cross section of the people in the community– fellow citizens of the parties to the lawsuit.
Your part as a juror is vital. You and your fellow jurors will decide all disputed questions of fact. The Judge who presides over the trial will decide the technical questions of law, but you, the jury, will have to consider all the evidence and, from what you see and hear during the trial, determine what the facts of the case really are.
Then you will apply the law (as explained by the Judge at the end of the trial) to the facts you have determined, and decide the case.
In other words, you, the jury–not the Judge, not “the system”–will decide the case. Justice depends upon you.
Nothing a citizen of the United States can be asked to do is more important than being a juror. You will help to decide what happens to the liberty or property of other people. You will want to do your best to assure that the jury on which you sit returns a fair and impartial verdict.
If you have never been a juror before, you may have questions about what happens in the courtroom and about your role as a juror.
Selecting a Jury
You and the others on the jury panel were selected at random to be called for jury duty. The first step in a trial is to select the number of people needed to try the case. The number of jurors will be either 6 or 12 depending on the type of case.
Names are drawn at random from the jury panel, and those who are called take seats in the jury box. The Judge will make a short statement telling what the case is about. Then the Judge or attorney will question each of you to see whether there is any reason why you cannot be a fair and impartial juror in that case. This is called the Voir Dire Examination.
The questions may be based on your answers to the Juror Personal History Questionnaire you have already filled out. They may deal with your personal life and your beliefs, because these could affect your attitude toward one side or the other.
You should answer these questions fully and frankly, and if for any reason you feel that you should not serve as a juror in the case, you should say so and tell why.
A juror who is related to or acquainted with any of the parties, or who has unfinished business with any of the lawyers, or who knows or has heard so much about the case that he or she has already formed an opinion about it, will probably be challenged for cause and be excused.
In addition, each side can excuse a certain number of jurors without giving a reason. These are called peremptory challenges.
If you are challenged and excused, with or without a reason, you should understand that it’s nothing personal and is no reflection on you. You may in fact be selected later to sit on another trial.
When both sides are finished with their challenges, the jurors who have been seated are sworn to try the case.
Conduct of the Trial
Civil and criminal trials are conducted in much the same way. The attorney for the Plaintiff (in a civil case) or the prosecuting attorney (in a criminal case) will generally begin with a short opening statement. The Defendant’s lawyer may then make a similar opening statement, or may wait until after the Plaintiff’s case has been fully presented, or not make one at all.
The opening statements tell you what the opposing parties claim the facts are, and they outline the evidence by which the parties expect to prove what they say are the facts. Remember: The opening statements are not themselves evidence; they are only the parties’ respective versions of the facts as they claim them to be, which must be proven by evidence.
Evidence is testimony or things (exhibits) which relate to a fact in dispute. Testimony is statements made by a witness under oath at the trial. An exhibit is a physical article, such as a document, a weapon, a photograph, introduced at the trial to be considered by the jury in determining the facts of the case.
Sometimes the testimony of a witness will have been given outside the courtroom and is read to the jury. The record of that testimony is called a Deposition. Or the testimony may have been given at a different trial, in which case the written record is called a Transcript. Sometimes videotaped depositions are allowed in certain circumstances.
Order of Presentation of a Case Arguments
After both sides have presented all their evidence, each attorney delivers a closing argument, summarizing his/her side’s case and the reasons why the jury should decide in their favor. If the testimony of witnesses is in conflict, each attorney tries to show why the jury should believe his/her side’s witnesses in preference to those of the other side.
Listen to these arguments very carefully, but remember that closing arguments are not themselves evidence; the lawyers were not present and do not know the facts firsthand. These arguments are simply each party’s summary of the case. As a juror you should not make up your mind about the outcome until you have heard all the evidence and considered it in light of the Judge’s instructions to the jury.
After the closing arguments the Judge will give Jury Instructions, which are statements of the rules of law which apply in the case you have just heard. After the jury has deliberated and determined the facts in the case, it must apply these rules of law to those facts in order to reach its verdict.
- After hearing the jury instructions, the jury moves to the jury room to consider the case and reach its verdict. All the jury’s discussion of testimony and evidence takes place only when all the jurors are present, in the jury room–nowhere else.
- Once inside the jury room, the first order of business is to select a Foreperson. The Foreperson sees that discussions are carried out in an orderly fashion, that issues before the jury are fully and fairly discussed, and that every juror has a chance to speak out.
- The Foreperson conducts any ballots that are taken and is the one who signs any requests the jury may make of the Judge.
- To assist in its deliberation, the jury may, in writing, request the exhibits that were introduced into evidence during the trial, ask to be reinstructed on any issue, or even ask that some testimony be read (played) back.
- Any exhibit brought into the jury room should be handled with care to avoid damaging or changing it in any way.
- The verdict in a criminal case must be unanimous. A civil case is tried by six jurors, and a verdict requires the agreement of five of them, unless the parties have agreed to something else.
- Discussion in the jury room should be open and frank. Each juror should feel free to say what he or she thinks–and why. Each juror should respect the right of others to their opinions and be willing to listen to them.
- You should not hesitate to change your mind if you are persuaded that your first opinion was mistaken, but you should not change your mind unless you are convinced of that.
- The goal of jury deliberation is agreement on a verdict, but no juror should try to force another to adopt his / her position. Courteous and reasonable discussion will usually make it possible to reach an agreement.
- In the rare instance where a jury cannot reach an agreement, the Foreperson may report to the Judge that the jury is deadlocked. The Judge may ask whether the jury needs any points clarified. Unless persuaded that it would be useless to do so, the Judge will almost certainly ask the jury to return to the jury room for further deliberations.
- It is natural that differences of opinion will arise. When they do, each juror should not only express his or her opinion but also the reasons upon which it is based. By reasoning the matter out, it is often possible for all the jurors to agree.
- In the course of your deliberations, do not hesitate to reexamine your own views and change your opinion if you are convinced that it is wrong. However, none of you should surrender your honest conviction as to the weight and effect of the evidence or lack of evidence solely because of the opinion of your fellow jurors or for the mere purpose of returning a verdict.
The Foreperson will report to the Judge when the jury has arrived at a verdict, which will then be read in open court. Any party may ask for a poll of the jury, meaning that the clerk will ask each juror individually whether that is his or her verdict.
The losing party may later appeal to a higher court on technical questions of law or procedure, but the jury’s findings of fact are almost always regarded as final; they are rarely set aside by the Judge or a higher court. You can understand, then, how important it is for each juror to do the very best to deliver a fair and impartial verdict.
During the Trial
Discussing the Case
- Your decision as a juror must be based only on the evidence admitted during the trial. Evidence is the testimony of witnesses, the exhibits, and any stipulations.
- Accordingly, you should not talk about the case during the trial with anyone — family members, friends, strangers, attorneys, witnesses, even other jurors–nor should you remain in the presence of others who are discussing it.
- If anyone tries to talk to you about the case, say that you are a juror and cannot discuss it. If the person persists, report it to the Judge at the first opportunity. When the trial is over, you may, if you wish, discuss the case with anyone.
For the same reason, you should not read, watch or listen to news reports about the trial. However careful and conscientious reporters and editors may be, news reports about the trial will inevitably be incomplete, and they could be incorrect.
Visiting the Scene
Don’t do it. It may seem like a good idea for instance, to go out to the corner where an accident took place and see for yourself. But it isn’t. Conditions may have changed or there may be other factors you don’t know about. You could come away with an incomplete or mistaken impression of the situation and because the lawyers don’t know you were there, they have no opportunity to show you the mistake.
If either party thinks that it would help for the jury to inspect the scene, the Judge will send you there as a group, under the Court’s supervision. Any independent visit by jurors could cause a mistrial, which means that the trial is cut off and the case will have to be retried.
Until the jury begins its deliberations, all trial proceedings are public. But what happens in the jury room is absolutely confidential. Each juror must feel free to say whatever he or she thinks about the testimony and evidence, or the witnesses, or the lawyers’ statements and arguments, without fear that any of it will be repeated outside the jury room. Without that assurance there may not be the full and frank discussion needed for the jury to reach a fair verdict.
As stated above, the purpose of a trial is to do justice, by deciding a dispute between parties fairly and impartially. The value to the community of your service as a juror in that effort cannot be overstated. You can go home when your period of duty is over with a sense of an important job well done.