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What Happens When Your Case Goes to a Jury Trial?

Preparing for a trial by jury is crucial to presenting yourself effectively in court. This article offers practical tips and insights into the dynamics in the courtroom, the trial process, and court etiquette that are helpful to observe. By learning about this information, you will be better prepared to participate in the trial and face the courtroom with confidence.

The Courtroom

In general, courtrooms have the same basic layout designated areas for the participants in the trial. A large area will be set aside for public seating. The front part of the gallery will be divided into another section by a bar where the attorneys will sit and work. Clients are not permitted in this area unless their attorney accompanies them. 

The plaintiff, defendants, and their attorneys sit on the left and right sides of the courtroom.

You will see the trial judge's bench if you face the courtroom. It is often elevated and the focal point of the courtroom. The court's staff will sit on either side of the judge.

The jury box is where members of the jury sit. This area is often on one side of the courtroom and between the judge and attorney tables. It is usually next to a doorway that leads to the jury deliberation room. This doorway to the jury room gives the jury easy access in and out of the courtroom with as little direct contact with the litigants as possible.

Jury Selection

Juries play a crucial role in the judiciary system that hears a particular case. The jury's duty is more than attending court trials. During a trial by jury, jurors are responsible for evaluating evidence, applicable rules of law, and rendering a jury verdict. 

They also determine the credibility of witnesses, weigh pieces of evidence, and ensure the fairness and integrity of the trial process. They determine if the evidence presented satisfies the criminal offenses beyond a reasonable doubt.

The selection for jury service starts with the process called voir dire. Potential jurors are questioned by the attorneys of each party and by the trial judge. Each side can ask the panel questions to determine which prospective jurors could arrive at an unbiased conclusion in a particular case.

The jury selection process continues until 12 jurors are accepted for the trial. In some cases, the judge and attorneys also select alternate jurors who will take a place in case one of the jurors becomes ill.

Trial Procedure

After jury selection, the trial court will allow each side to make an opening statement. The opening statement often consists of each side telling the jury what the case will show. The counsels present the facts of the case and introduce factual issues at stake, following the rules of evidence.

After the opening statement, one of the parties, usually the plaintiff, will begin their case-in-chief. This is the central part of the case in which both parties introduce evidence through witnesses or written documentation. The defendant also presents their case in chief.

After each party completes its case-in-chief, each party may introduce rebuttal testimony. Rebuttal evidence is any evidence admitted by the court. Parties often use rebuttal evidence to refute the evidence previously presented or acknowledged by the other party. It 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. This is the last chance for the attorneys to address the jury. The closing argument is where the attorney summarizes the facts of the case, evidence, and testimonies. It is where attorneys can attempt to crush opposing statements.

Jury Verdict

Before or after the attorneys' closing arguments, the judge will provide instructions to the jury. These instructions often contain guidelines on applicable laws as applied to the issues of fact in the case. The jury will use the judge's instructions to arrive at a verdict. 

When rendering a verdict, the jurors should keep an open mind and consider evidence from all sides. They must pay attention to the degree of proof required for the court to reach a verdict. 

In criminal trials, the prosecution must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, a party has to prove a charge by a preponderance of evidence.

Court Etiquette During Jury Trial

Because the outcome of your trial can depend on what kind of impression the jurors have of you, it is crucial to adhere to specific court rules to make sure everyone in the courtroom has the most favorable opinion of you. Do your best to:

  • Be on time: Many judges and juries consider it rude if you are late. You must be prompt in the mornings and return on time from breaks and lunch.
  • Communicate with notes: Use handwritten notes when communicating with your attorney. Talking during a trial may be distracting for the jury, the judge, and your attorney.
  • Stand up when the judge and jury enter or leave the courtroom: This is a long-held rule of courtesy and respect.
  • No eating, drinking, or chewing gum: Most judges prohibit any eating or drinking inside the courtroom. Keep food and drinks outside the courtroom before and after breaks. Judges consider chewing gum disrespectful and it can look bad in front of a jury.

Understanding the rules of law and trial procedures allows you to be mindful of the process and ensure a fair verdict.

Seek Legal Advice

Are you looking for a legal professional who can guide you through the complexities of the trial process? FindLaw offers a directory of litigation and appeals lawyers in every city. These legal professionals can help you navigate through each phase of your case. They can give you legal advice and represent your behalf. Do not let the legal process overwhelm you. 

Whether you're facing a criminal case or a civil case, consider reaching out to a litigation and appeals lawyer.

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