As a citizen, you have long enjoyed the privileges and protection of your government. Now you are called into service for that same government. You have been summoned and qualified as a trial juror for the courts of West Virginia.
Jury service is the fulfillment of a civic obligation and a valuable privilege. There is no more vital work a citizen can perform in the exercise of self-government than honest and conscientious jury service. Service as a juror is as important as that of the judge, and a trial juror should take great personal satisfaction in the fact that an important duty has been accomplished. Indeed, the effectiveness of our system of justice is measured by the integrity and dedication of the jurors who serve in our courts.
This handbook is designed to help you understand trial procedures and terms you may hear in the courtroom. In each case for which you are selected as a juror, the trial judge will give you instructions as to your schedule, courtroom procedures, and the law as it relates to the case before you. You should disregard anything in this handbook which is in conflict with the judge's instructions.
It is necessary that there be courts so that the disputes which arise between people can be settled justly and peaceably. It is necessary that persons charged with crime be fairly tried, that public safety and welfare be protected on the one hand, and that private rights and liberties be safeguarded on the other. It is the business of every citizen to see that this is done, and it is a duty which the people must do for themselves if life, liberty and property are to be kept secure.
Suppose Ms. Jones sues Mr. Smith. They may be strangers to you, and you may not care who wins. But as a citizen, it is very important to you and all the people that there be a way by which disputes between people can be settled without conflict and in a rational and just manner.
John Doe may be accused of a crime. He may also be a stranger to you, and you may never have heard of the offense with which he is charged. Still, it is important to you as a citizen that the laws be enforced to punish wrongdoers and discourage crime so that you may be safe and secure in your person, your property and your rights. It is equally important that no innocent person be falsely convicted and sent to prison, for if that could happen to someone else, it could also happen to you.
Role of The Judge and Jury
The oaths taken by a judge and juror require each of them to accept and apply the law as it is. That is a sworn duty. No person is allowed to disregard the law because he or she thinks the law should be different than it is. Laws are made, repealed or changed by those who are elected to make laws, not judges and jurors.
During the trial the judge decides all questions and disputes about the law and the rules for presenting evidence. At the end of the trial, the judge instructs the jury on the law and the main questions it is to decide. The case is then turned over to the jury, and the power and responsibility move from the judge's bench to the jury room. The jury must decide what the facts are and what testimony to believe.
The first step in a civil or criminal jury trial is the selection from the jury panel of the number of jurors required to try the case. In circuit court, civil case juries are composed of six persons and criminal case juries are composed of twelve persons. In magistrate court, all juries are composed of six persons. In most cases, the judge will impanel one or more extra or alternate jurors in case a juror should become ill or have to be excused because of an emergency during the course of the trial.
After the judge briefly explains the general nature of the case to be tried and introduces the lawyers and parties, the panel of prospective jurors is questioned in a process called voir dire – French for "to speak the truth" – to determine if any juror has a personal interest in the case or a prejudice or bias that may wrongly influence his or her role as a juror. The attorneys may ask the court to excuse some jurors from the trial. These requests for excuses are called "challenges." There are an unlimited number of challenges for cause, where a specific legal reason is given, and a limited number of peremptory challenges, where no reason is given. The system of challenges is designed to allow lawyers to do their best to assure that their clients will have a fair trial.
For instance, anyone who is related to any of the parties, has unfinished business with one of the lawyers, or knows so much about the case that he or she already has an opinion, may be challenged for cause and excused. On the other hand, a lawyer may learn that a prospective juror has had some experience, such as a similar lawsuit, or a social or business connection with one party, which, although not a legal ground for challenge for cause, may still be a good reason for excusing the juror. This would be a peremptory challenge. A juror should not take offense if excused from serving on a particular jury. The lawyer is not suggesting the juror lacks ability, honesty, or judgment, but is only using a legal right. When all challenges are used, the remaining jurors are sworn to try the case upon the merits.
When the jury is selected and sworn, the lawyers on each side of the case may make brief statements to the jury outlining what they intend to prove on behalf of their clients. Jurors should remember that these statements of the lawyers are not evidence, but only explanations of what each side claims, and these claims must be proved by evidence. These conflicting claims constitute the issues of the case.
Presentation of Evidence
The next step in the trial is the presentation of the evidence in the form of testimony and exhibits. Testimony consists of statements made by witnesses under oath. Exhibits are physical objects, such as photographs, weapons, or written documents. Usually, the attorney for the plaintiff in a civil case or the prosecutor, if it is a criminal case, proceeds first. The defense will offer its evidence after the plaintiff or prosecutor finishes. When the defense has rested its case, the court may allow the plaintiff or prosecutor to put on rebuttal evidence and call additional witnesses.
Rules of evidence have been developed over the years to insure that trials are fair and orderly, and the judge acts as a gatekeeper for the evidence that comes into court. Insofar as the jury is concerned, the evidence is only that which the judge permits the jury to consider. For instance, statements and arguments of the lawyers are not evidence, and neither is testimony that the jury has heard, but which the judge has ordered stricken from the record. A juror must treat all such testimony as though it had never been given. Similarly, matters that a lawyer offers to prove, but which the judge will not allow to be presented, are not to be considered as evidence. Jurors are not to consider personal knowledge or any other information about the witnesses, parties, lawyers or issues connected with the case than that which is presented in the trial.
Examination of Witnesses
To prove a certain side of the case, lawyers may call witnesses to the stand for examination. Lawyers ask questions of the witnesses to bring out the specific facts they wish to show. The questions asked should have some bearing on the case, and the witnesses should know about the subject or matter being discussed. If these and other rules are not followed, the lawyers on the other side of the case may object. If the judge believes the question or answer does not comply with the rules of evidence, the objection will be sustained. On the other hand, if the judge does not believe the law requires the exclusion of the evidence, the objection will be overruled, and an answer will be required. The various rulings by the judge during witness examination do not mean that the judge is taking sides. The judge is merely deciding whether the law does or does not permit a particular question to be asked and answered. Even if the judge decides every objection in favor of one side, it does not mean that side is entitled to win the case.
When the direct examination of a witness is finished, the lawyer for the other side may cross examine, which means that he or she may ask questions of the same witness. When cross examination is finished, the first lawyer may ask questions on redirect examination to clear up points developed on cross examination. To keep out improper matters, witnesses are allowed only to answer the questions asked. If the witness makes a statement which is not a proper answer to a question, it may be stricken out, which means jurors must disregard it entirely.
Each juror should pay close attention to the witnesses who testify, both to hear what the witnesses say and to watch their manner and actions. In determining the credit to be given to witnesses, jurors may take into account their ability and opportunity to observe, their memory, their manner while testifying, any bias or prejudice they may have, and the reasonableness of their testimony in light of all the evidence in the case.
Conferences And Delays During Trial
There are occasions during a trial when the lawyers may confer with the judge out of the hearing of the jury, or the judge may excuse the jury from the courtroom while the attorneys argue a point of law. In either case, jurors should not feel slighted or attempt to guess what is being said. These conferences are often held to avoid confusing or misleading the jury on a technical legal matter or to simplify issues. Although such hearings may seem time-consuming, they usually speed up the trial process.
There may be other delays during the trial, for instance, something may have happened to delay someone, the judge may be looking up the law on some point which has suddenly arisen, or the parties may be trying to work out a settlement. Service as a juror may sometimes require patience.
Guessing At The Judge's Opinion
As the trial proceeds, jurors sometimes try to guess at what the judge thinks about the case or the way it should be decided. This is a mistake. Even though the judge's rulings may be mostly or entirely in favor of one party, that does not indicate how the judge thinks the case should be decided. If the judge has an opinion about the facts, and it is one which is legally proper for the jury to know, the judge will make it plain in the directions or instructions of law at the end of the trial.
Closing Arguments Or Summations
After all the evidence has been presented, the lawyers for each side will make closing arguments to the jury, giving the reasons why they believe their side should prevail. If the testimony of witnesses is conflicting, the lawyers will tell the jury why the witnesses on their side are more persuasive than those on the other side.
What the lawyers say in closing arguments or summations is not evidence and should not be considered as such. Jurors should, however, pay careful attention to the arguments because lawyers have experience and training in analyzing and interpreting evidence, and these arguments are permitted so that you may have the benefit of that experience and training. Nevertheless, it will be for the jury to determine, through judgment and common sense, which of the arguments is the most reasonable analysis of the facts.
After the closing arguments are made, the judge will give instructions to the jury on which questions it is to decide and what specific law applies to that particular case. The kind and amount of proof required will be pointed out. The juror should listen to these instructions very carefully. If, in considering the case in the jury room, there is any disagreement as to what the judge instructed, or its meaning, the jury may ask for further instructions. Such a request should be made in writing and given to the court bailiff who will pass the request on to the judge.
After the judge has delivered the instructions, the jury will go to the jury room to review the evidence according to the judge's instructions and reach a verdict. The verdict is the final decision of the jury; it resolves the case.
The first duty upon retiring to the jury room is to select someone to preside over deliberations and act as a spokesperson in the courtroom. It is the duty of this juror, usually called the "foreperson," to see that discussion is carried on in a sensible and orderly fashion, that the issues submitted for decision are fully and fairly addressed, and that every juror has a chance to say what he or she thinks upon every question. The foreperson conducts voting and also signs any written verdicts required and any written requests made of the judge. While the foreperson should express his or her opinions during the deliberations, these opinions are entitled to no more or less weight than those of the other jurors.
Differences of opinion often arise between jurors during deliberations. When this happens, each juror should say what he or she thinks and why. By reasoning the matter out, it is usually possible for jurors to agree. Jurors should not hesitate to change their minds if they decide their first opinion was not right, but they should not change their decisions unless their reason and judgment is truly changed. Jurors should vote according to their own honest judgment of the evidence. If a jury cannot agree within a reasonable time, it may result in a new trial, which may be a great expense to the parties and the state. Jurors are expected to be fair, reasonable and courteous to each other, and try to reach an agreement which is a "fair and true verdict."
When a verdict has been reached, the jury will return to the courtroom. The verdict will be read in open court by the clerk and accepted by the judge. Sometimes one of the parties will ask that the jury be polled. This means the clerk will ask each juror individually in open court if the verdict is his or her own verdict. After the verdict is delivered, the jury's service will be complete, and the jury will be discharged by the judge.
After The Trial
Often when a jury trial is completed, reporters and other members of the media or the attorneys and parties involved in the case wish to ask jurors about their deliberations and what factors influenced the final verdict. Jurors are under no obligation to answer any questions about a case or comment upon it in any way. A simple refusal or response of "no comment" should suffice.
On the other hand, if jurors wish to speak with the media or attorneys about the trial, they are free to do so. Remember, however, that it is not appropriate for any juror to reveal the votes of any other member of the jury.
Do's and Don'ts
There are certain rules that a juror should follow throughout the trial in order to be fair to all sides:
- Inspecting the Scene: The case on trial may involve a certain place or thing, such as the scene of an accident, a particular business place, the operation of a traffic light or the like. If it is necessary and proper for the jury to make an inspection of the place or thing, the judge will order that the entire jury do so, with the judge and the lawyers present. It is improper for any juror to make an inspection unless ordered by the court. An unauthorized inspection by a juror might force a retrial of the case.
- Discussing the Case: During or before the trial, jurors should not talk about the case with each other, with other persons, or allow other people to talk about it in their presence. If anyone insists upon talking about the case after repeated attempts to silence them, the juror should report the matter to the judge at the first opportunity.
- News Accounts: To ensure that jurors keep an open mind until all the evidence, arguments and the instructions of the court have been heard, they should not watch television accounts, listen to radio broadcasts, or read newspaper articles which may occur during the trial. Such sources may give a biased or unbalanced version of the case.
- Talking With Parties or Lawyers: Jurors should not talk with any of the parties, witnesses or lawyers during the trial. It may give the appearance that something unfair is happening.
- Jury Research Organizations: There are a number of organizations which conduct research on the composition of juries and its potential impact on the verdicts and awards in different types of cases. Since the names of prospective jurors are a matter of public record, there is a small chance that jurors may be called prior to, or during, the term of jury service by one of these research groups. Jurors are under no obligation to provide personal or other information to these organizations and may simply refuse to participate if they wish. These and any other attempts by people other than court officials to contact and question jurors should be reported to the circuit clerk who will inform the judge.
- Promptness: It is most important that jurors not be late in reporting for duty. One juror who is late wastes the time of all the other jurors, the judge, the lawyers, the witnesses, and the parties. A lawyer, witness or juror may be fined for contempt of court for being tardy without good cause. The circuit clerk's office should be notified of unavoidable delays.
- Personal Problems or Emergencies: Jurors should notify the judge of any problem which may affect service or any personal emergencies which occur during trial. In these situations, a juror may send word to the judge through court personnel or may ask to see the judge in private.
Legal And Judicial Terms
- an assertion, declaration or positive statement by a party to a case which states what the party expects to prove.
- the defendant's written response to allegations in the case.
- the process by which a decision in a case is carried from a lower court to a higher one for review.
- a court official who maintains courtroom order and security and also assists the judge and jury as necessary.
- Charge to the Jury
- a judge's instructions to the jury regarding the laws pertaining to a case.
- Civil Case
- an action brought by a person, company or other entity – the plaintiff – to protect some right or to help recover money or property from another person or company – the defendant.
- a geographical court jurisdiction composed of one or more counties.
- Closing Argument
- a summary of the evidence presented bo the jury by the attorneys.
- Complaint (civil)
- written statements by the plaintiff(s) setting forth the claims against the defendant(s).
- Complaint (criminal)
- a formal statement charging an individual with a criminal offense.
- Criminal Case
- an action brought in the name of the State of West Virginia to try a person – the defendant – who is charged with a crime.
- the questioning of a witness by the opposing side.
- the person against whom a civil lawsuit is brought, or, in a criminal case, the person who is charged with committing a crime.
- jury discussions and consideration of the facts presented during the trial prior to reaching a verdict.
- witness testimony taken under oath and outside the courtroom.
- Direct Examination
- the first questioning of a witness by the party on whose behalf the witness is called.
- Due Process
- a constitutional provision guaranteeing an accused person a fair and impartial trial.
- any legally presented proof which may be established by witnesses, records, documents, or physical objects.
- any paper, document, or other object received by the court and offered as evidence during a trial or hearing.
- a serious criminal offense punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary.
- a grand jury's written accusation charging that a person or business allegedly committed a crime.
- a direction given by a judge to the jury regarding the law in a case.
- a person or group engaged in a lawsuit.
- a less serious criminal offense than a felony which is punishable by a fine or imprisonment in jail.
- a written or oral pledge to speak the truth.
- a statement by an attorney opposing the admission of specific testimony or evidence during trial.
- Opening Statement
- an outline of anticipated proof presented to the jury by the attorneys at the beginning of the trial.
- the court's denial of a motion or objection raised to the court; when a court overrules an objection to evidence (for example, testimony), the jury may properly consider it.
- persons, corporations, or associations which have brought a lawsuit or are defendants in a trial.
- in a civil case, the person or other entity who files a claim against another person or, in a criminal case, the State of West Virginia.
- Probable Cause
- a reasonable belief that a crime has or is being committed; the basis for all lawful searches and arrests.
- the act of pursuing a lawsuit or criminal trial; the prosecution in a criminal case is brought by the state through the prosecutor.
- the public official who performs the function of trial lawyer for the state.
- Redirect Examination
- the examination of witnesses which follows cross-examination and is exercised by that party who first examined the witness.
- Restitution to Victim
- an amount of money the court requires the defendant to pay the victim of a crime to repay the victim for damages or losses as the result of the offense.
- Striking a Jury
- process of selecting a trial jury where attorneys "strike" or excuse jurors until the number of jurors required for a trial remains.
- court's acceptance of any motion or objection; when a court sustains an objection to evidence (for example, testimony), the jury may not consider it.
- examination of issues regarding fact and law before a court.
- the final formal trial decision made by a jury, read before the court, and accepted by the judge.
- Voir Dire Examination
- the preliminary questioning of jurors by the attorneys and/or the judge to establish their qualifications to sit on a particular jury.
- a person subpoenaed to testify under oath who possesses factual knowledge about a case.
Prepared by the Administrative Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia