Rules Regarding Your Jury Trial
Although your attorney completes the majority of any pretrial preparations, your role during your trial is very significant. You must remember that you'll be at the center of everyone's attention -- everyone in the courtroom will be watching your movements, facial expressions, gestures, and conduct. This is why it's essential that you make the best impression possible on the jury. You must leave them believing that you are honest, trustworthy, and someone that the jury wants to help. This article will discuss several areas you should always keep in mind about presenting yourself to the jury.
In general, courtrooms have the same basic layout and designated areas for the participants in the trial. There will be a large area set aside for public seating; this is where observers and the jury panel will be seated. The front part of the gallery will be divided from another section by a "bar" where the attorneys will sit and work. Clients generally aren't permitted in this area unless their attorney accompanies them. Each party to the trail -- the plaintiff and defendants, and their attorneys -- will be seated at a separate table.
At the front of the courtroom will be the judge's bench, which is usually elevated and is the focal point of the courtroom. The court's staff will sit on either side of the judge. Lastly, there is the jury box where members of the jury sit. This area is often located to one side of the courtroom and between the judge and attorney tables. The jury box is also usually next to a doorway that leads to the jury deliberation room; this doorway gives the jury easy access in and out of the courtroom with as little direct contact with the litigants as possible.
Your first experience during your trial will most likely be the voir dire examination. This is the portion of the trial in which the actual jury is selected from the larger jury panel, which is a pool of potential jurors. During voir dire examination, each side will have an opportunity to ask the panel questions in order to determine which potential jurors could arrive at an unbiased determination in the case.
Once the jury is selected, the court will give each side a chance to make an opening statement, which usually consists of each side telling the jury what they believe the case will show. After the opening statement, one of the parties -- usually the plaintiff -- will begin his or her case in chief. This is the main part of the case in which both parties introduce evidence through witnesses or written documentation. Once the plaintiff has finished presenting all the evidence that party decided to use, the defendant then begins his or her case in chief. After each party completes their case-in-chief, each party may introduce "rebuttal" testimony. Rebuttal evidence is any evidence that is admitted to refute evidence that the other side has admitted. Rebuttal evidence is much more limited in scope than the evidence presented in a case-in-chief.
Once both sides have finished presenting all their evidence, each attorney will make a closing argument, which is the last time that the attorneys will address the jury. Closing arguments are very important since this is the time that each side is able to tell the jury what they believe the evidence shows and what the jury should do in their deliberations. After closing arguments, the judge will give the jurors instructions on how to act and how to deliberate. The jurors will also receive the specific questions that the jury must decide regarding the outcome of the case based on the evidence each side presented during trial.
Etiquette During Trial
Because the outcome of your trial can depend on what kind of impression the jurors have of you, it is important to adhere to certain rules of etiquette to make sure everyone in the courtroom has the most favorable opinion of you.
- Be on time: many judges and juries consider it rude if you are late; you must be timely not only in the mornings, but you must also return promptly from breaks and lunch periods.
- Communicate with notes: when you communicate with your attorney, you should do so using handwritten notes; talking during a trial may be distracting for the jury, the judge, and for your attorney.
- Stand up when the judge and jury enter or leave the courtroom: this is a long-held rule of courtesy and respect.
- Eating, drinking, or chewing gum: most judges prohibit any kind of eating or drinking inside the courtroom, so it's important to keep food and drinks outside the courtroom before and after breaks. Judges also consider chewing gum to be disrespectful, and it can look bad in front of a jury.
- Dress neatly and conservatively: it's important to present yourself in a way that won't distract from your case while making sure that you are comfortable in your clothes. Jurors can be extremely observant and they may pick up the fact that you're uncomfortable and interpret that as your being dishonest about some aspect of the case.
- Don't show too much emotion : don't get angry or show disgust through facial expressions or gestures. It's important to show the jury that you are in control even though you're under the stress of being in litigation. When you are asked a question sit back in the witness chair and respond calmly.