Jury Duty – Judge and Jury
JURY DUTY – WHAT TO EXPECT, PART 4 OF 4– JUDGE AND JURY
You’ve heard and seen all the evidence and the arguments of the lawyers. You’ve had the chance to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses. The lawyers and the parties take a seat. Now it’s just you and your fellow jurors, and the judge.
The judge will read to you verbatim a set of jury instructions. This will take at least a few minutes. The instructions could be substantially longer, depending on the complexity of the case.
Listen carefully. If you find this part of the process boring, fight every urge to not pay attention. The instructions are of paramount importance. They are the law, and it is your duty as a juror to follow it. The jury will be provided a copy of the instructions to take into deliberations.
A couple of the key instructions you can expect concern the proof of a fact and the “burden of proof.” In a. civil case, a fact may be accepted as true if it is “more probably true than not true.” The plaintiff in a civil case bears the burden to prove to you the elements of the plaintiff’s claim(s). But unlike the prosecution in a criminal case, the plaintiff does not have to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. The plaintiff need only prove them by a preponderance of the evidence. It’s up to you and your fellow jurors to decide whether the plaintiff has met that burden.
After the judge has read the jury instructions, the jury retires to the jury room to begin its deliberations. Now it’s all about you. The jurors sit in a room with the doors closed. The deliberations are secret. Not even the judge listens in.
Based on experience, we can say this is probably the most nerve-racking part of the practice of law – waiting for the verdict. As Tom Petty put it, “The waiting is the hardest part.” The lawyers can drive themselves nuts trying to imagine what the jury is talking about. But we don’t get to listen.
In the course of its deliberations, the jury may have one or more questions about the evidence or the instructions, or even something else. They can send a note out to the judge. The judge will consult with the lawyers and formulate a response. Sometimes the response will simply say that you should be guided by your recollection of the evidence.
In order to reach a verdict, at least five of the six jurors must agree. If you reach a verdict, each of the jurors in agreement sign the appropriate verdict form, and inform the bailiff that the jury has reached a verdict. Once the parties and the lawyers have been reassembled, the jury will return to the courtroom, and the person who was chosen to be the foreperson will tell the judge that there is a verdict. At that point, either the foreperson or the clerk will be asked to read the verdict. Then you and your fellow jurors are excused, having done you civic duty.
If the jury decides that it cannot reach a verdict, it should so inform the bailiff, who will inform the judge. The judge will then likely give further instruction to the jurors to continue deliberating to try to reach agreement. If after further deliberation, the jury still can’t reach a verdict, the judge may direct more deliberation or may declare a mistrial. Given the amount of time and resources that get devoted to a trial, a mistrial is something the judge really wants to avoid if at all possible.
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