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Trial Process

 

OFFICERS OF THE COURT:


Judge: Appointed by the governor or elected by the voters, a judge has the authority and duty to hear and decide questions of law. The judge functions to provide equal and fair trials.

Attorney: A licensed practitioner of the law, employed either by a party to the case or by the county to prepare and present a case.

Clerk: As the chief administrative officer of the court, the clerk compiles official files and exhibits. In addition, the clerk swears in jurors and maintains records of the court proceedings.

Bailiff: A court attendant maintains order in the courtroom and has custody of the jury.

Court Reporter: The person who records legal proceedings for the official record of the proceeding.

Interpreter: Interpreters are hired by the court to help translate foreign languages and to aid disabled participants.

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PRETRIAL


Settlement of Cases: The law encourages people to settle their disputes out of court. In fact, lawyers will negotiate right up to the moment the trial begins. The trial may even be delayed while the lawyers try to work out a settlement with the judge in chambers. The lawyers may continue to negotiate out of the jury's hearing, while the trial is in process. As a juror, you will not be told what is happening unless the two sides agree upon settlement terms, in which event the trial will end and you will be dismissed.

Settlement occurs both in civil and criminal cases. In civil cases, lawyers try to reach an agreement which satisfies both sides. This may take the form of a monetary amount which both sides believe satisfies their complaints. In criminal cases, the district attorney, who represents the prosecution, may plea bargain with the defendant. A plea bargain is an agreement between the district attorney not to prosecute by means of a trial in exchange for the defendant's admittance that he or she committed a crime.

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Jury Selection: Those summoned for jury duty will be taken into a courtroom. Twelve names will be drawn, unless the parties to the case agree to a smaller jury. Those people chosen will be ushered into the jury box. Those not chosen will remain seated in the courtroom.

The judge will state the names of the parties in the case and the names of the lawyers who will represent them. The judge also will tell the jurors the subject matter of the case - for example, a drunk driving case, a burglary case or a civil suit such as an automobile accident.

After these introductions, the judge and attorneys will question each of the potential jurors seated in the jury box. The purpose of this questioning is to find out if that person can be fair and impartial.

One of the attorneys may "challenge a juror for cause." This means that the attorney will ask the judge to excuse that particular juror from the juror for a specific legal reason. For example, if a person knows one of the attorneys, that juror may favor one side. Each lawyer has an unlimited number of challenges for cause. This process is called "voir dire."

Each attorney also has the right to a limited number of peremptory challenges. A peremptory challenge means that an attorney, without giving any reasons at all, may ask that a person be excused from the jury. The attorney may make these challenges for most any reason, except if the challenge appears to be motivated by racial or gender discrimination. The opposing attorney will object if he or she believes that the peremptory challenge is not based on acceptable reasons.

After the required number of jurors is chosen, the jury panel is sworn by the clerk of the court.

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Opening Statement: First, the attorney for the side bringing the case will tell the jury what he or she intends to prove. In a civil case, this is the plaintiff's attorney; in a criminal case, this is the prosecuting attorney. The attorney for the defense may then make an opening statement or may wait until after the other side presents its evidence.

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Presentation of the Evidence: After the opening statement, the side bringing the case -the plaintiff or the state- will present its evidence. There are different ways to present evidence. A party may call witnesses, and ask them questions. The other attorney also will ask the witnesses questions in a process called cross-examination. Each attorney may bring in letters, papers, charts, photographs, diagrams or any other exhibit to prove its case.

Before the other side puts on its defense, there may be an interruption in the jury proceedings, when motions will be made. Sometimes the defense will not present evidence, claiming that the plaintiff has not proved their case. Usually, though, the jury will hear the defense attorney's opening statement, and again listen to witnesses and see exhibits.

For additional information regarding evidence, please see this link: More About Evidence.

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Closing Statements: Finally, both attorneys will sum up the case from their perspectives. Taking turns, each will tell the jury what he or she believes the evidence shows and why it favors his or her side.

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Instructions to the Jury: At this point, the judge will instruct the jury on its duties. The judge will tell the jury what law applies to the facts. After that, the bailiff will move the jury into the jury room, where jury members will deliberate in an effort to reach a decision or a verdict.

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Conduct in the Jury Room: The first motion of business in a jury room is to select one of the jurors as a foreperson. He or she leads the discussion and tries to encourage everyone to join in the discussion. Every juror should have input. The purpose of these deliberations is to have a robust, uninhibited discussion which will lead to a calm, unbiased reasoning.

In civil cases, it takes three-fourths of the jurors to reach a verdict. In criminal cases, all jurors must agree - that is, the verdict must be unanimous.

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The Verdict: Reaching a decision - a verdict- may take a few hours or days. Once the jury has reached its decision, the foreperson will record the verdict on an official form. In turn, the bailiff will inform the judge that the jury is ready, and the jury will return to the jury box.

The judge will ask the jury if they have reached a verdict. The foreperson will answer, handing the written verdict to the clerk. The clerk will read the verdict aloud, mark the record accordingly and ask, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is this your verdict?" The jurors should reply to this question by answering "yes" or "no."

Sometimes one of the parties will ask that the jury be polled. This means that the clerk will ask each juror individually if this is his or her own verdict. The jury's service will then be complete.

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