All of the following comments apply to civil court only, as I don’t handle any criminal cases. Civil court hears personal injury, contract disputes and other types of dispute cases. In criminal it is the government against a defendant. In civil court, it is people suing a defendant. If you are summoned for jury duty in a civil case, the first thing to be ready for is the long wait. You will watch a video on jury duty. You will then sit in the waiting room waiting for the judge to call the next case. When you come into the courtroom, you will all sit in the “bleachers” or the main sitting area of the courtroom. The clerk of court will then call twelve people into the jury box for jury selection.
Jury selection is basically a question answer session. The attorneys are going to ask you a lot of questions to get an idea of who you are and what views you may have toward a particular case. Most attorneys struggle with this as it is very hard to get to know one person in a few hours. It is nearly impossible to get to know twelve people all at the same time. It will be important for you to try and volunteer information that you think is relevant. For example, if you have been in a car wreck or involved in a personal injury case, the attorneys may want to know. If you weren’t treated well by the insurance companies in your wreck, you could have hard feelings. By the way, “insurance” is not admissible in court. You will probably not even hear the word spoken. Insurance companies have managed to get laws passed that keep insurance information from the juries. So, you will never be told how much motor vehicle insurance is available. The entire case will appear to be against the defendant personally, but don’t be fooled into thinking that there is no insurance.
Both attorneys will ask questions of the jury panel. Not only is their goal to determine who will be the best jurors, they will also attempt the tell you something about the case. They can’t say much as the case hasn’t really started, but they will drop hints. The defense attorney was probably hired by the insurance company for the defendant. He or she will attempt to get you thinking certain ways. The insurance defense attorney will try and talk about using your common sense, about people suing for money, and about people claiming to be hurt. Some insurance defense attorneys are very clever in influencing the jury before the trial even gets started.
The trial itself will really start with Opening Statements. Both lawyers will get the chance to tell you what happened from their point of view. The Opening is not supposed to be argumentative, but instead just a basic outline of what happened and what the evidence will show. The plaintiff’s case will then start, which is just the witnesses for the plaintiff. Such witnesses may include a police officer, eyewitnesses, a doctor, the plaintiff, and some friends or family members.
The defendant often will not put on evidence. If they don’t put on evidence, then they get to have the last Closing. This can be a big advantage as they will often say things that aren’t exactly accurate. They know that the plaintiff’s attorney can’t respond, and they hope that the jury won’t remember the facts. So, listen carefully and take what you hear in final Closing with a grain of salt.
After Closings, you will then go to the jury room to render a verdict. The verdict must be unanimous. At first, this will seem like a daunting task. It is hard to get twelve people to agree on anything. However, after a few hours of deliberations, some common ground is made among the jury. Most car wreck trials last a few days, while some larger personal injury cases may last all week. A larger medical malpractice trial can last two weeks. While you may be concerned about how much time you miss from work, it is usually better than a large criminal case that can last a whole month.
While no one likes jury duty, the right to a trial by jury is a fundamental American right. If someone breaks the rules, they should be held responsible. Otherwise, the innocent have to pay. In addition to responsibility, trials are also a deterrent. If we hold people responsible by bringing them to court, it upholds the rule of law and encourages people to drive carefully. Good luck!