During the trial, as a juror, you will hear a lot of talk about "evidence." Evidence is simply information - facts and observations about the matter at hand. But not all information is considered evidence, and not every piece of information may be allowed to be presented as part of a party's case.
Here are some common categories of evidence:
- Testimony: answers given by witness to questions asked by the judge or lawyers
- Exhibits admitted by the judge: documents, contracts, court records and material objects, such as a gun, an item of clothing, a photograph or a diagram of a location where some of the events in question occurred.
- Witnesses' depositions: these are answers to questions which were asked by the lawyers in the case before the trial began; these questions are answered under oath and presented to the court later in written form
- Stipulations: agreements between both sides as to certain facts in the case, such as a date or time
Some pieces of information are not evidence. Judges and lawyers must follow the Rules of Evidence, which have been created over decades to insure a fair trial. During a trial, information may be presented that may not be considered by the jury. Such inadmissible evidence is:
- Testimony that the judge will not admit: according to the Rules of Evidence, the judge may rule that certain answers or testimony provided by a witness may not be admitted to the record of the trial proceedings and, as such, will be stricken; the judge will ask the jury not to consider the testimony and each juror should forget that he or she ever heard that testimony
- Statements by lawyers: lawyers often talk about the evidence and attempt to interpret its content for the jury; however, their comments and interpretations are not evidence
- Anything you learn or hear about the case from outside the court: gossip, newspaper articles and personal information cannot be used by a juror to reach a verdict; the verdict must be derived strictly from the information - the evidence- presented within the courtroom by the attorneys and the judge
- Comments about the case made by others within your hearing: usually these comments are made innocently, or sometimes a person may try to "plant" a comment in the hope of influencing a jury member
The judge decides what evidence is proper and admissible. The judge may allow the jury to hear certain testimony or to see particular exhibits. The judge also may shield the jury from certain information. Even though this process may be frustrating at times, the jury must obey the judge's orders to consider -or to not consider- certain evidence. Although the judges decides what evidence the jury may consider, individual jury members decide whether that evidence is believable, and how important it is to the case.
Jury members should keep several questions in mind while listening to testimony:
- Does this witness have an interest in the outcome of the case?
- Does the witness "forget" when it is convenient to do so, and only remember what evidence is favorable to one party?
- Are the statements of the witness reasonable or improbable?
- Could the witness be mistaken about what he or she saw, heard, smelled or felt?
Witnesses are the eyes, ears and senses of the jury. Cross-examination will help jurors to consider the validity of testimony. Cross-examination often shows another perspective to the witness' testimony, and helps to provide a more complete understanding of what a witness saw or heard.
During a trial, the attorneys may object to questions asked by their opponent. This is common and an important part of an attorney's job. A trial must be conducted according to rules. An attorney may object to questions or evidence he or she believes is improper.
When an objection is made, the judge will either overrule or sustain the objection. If the judge considers the question to be proper or the evidence admissible, he or she will overrule the objection. This ruling does not indicate that the judge favors one side or one lawyer over the other.