What to Expect If Sworn as a Juror
If you were to discuss the facts of the case, or your impressions of it, with a fellow juror, your family, friends or any other person, you would be exposing your mind to outside influences. Remember that all cases must be decided solely on the evidence received in the courtroom.
In addition, the instruction that you not form or express opinions on the case requires that you keep an open mind until all evidence has been presented and the case has been submitted to you for deliberation. Even an accidental violation of this instruction would be a violation of your oath as a juror.
You may be asked to wear a badge so that you will be recognized as a juror and avoid exposing yourself to any inappropriate discussions related to the case. If someone tries to speak to you about the case or speaks about the case in your presence, you must report it to the judge immediately.
Jurors serve in two kinds of cases, criminal and civil. In a criminal case, the plaintiff is a prosecutor (District Attorney or Attorney General) who represents the State of California. The prosecutor alleges that the defendant committed a crime. The prosecution has the burden of proving each element of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, a person or entity - the plaintiff - asks the court to protect some right or help recover money or property from another person or entity - the defendant. There is a different burden of proof for civil cases.
Each side in the case will present its evidence. This is done by calling witnesses, asking them questions and presenting exhibits such as photographs, papers, charts, weapons or any other evidence to prove its case. Sometimes the defense in the case will not present evidence. In a criminal case, the defendant is presumed innocent and the prosecution has the burden of establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. No criminal defendant is required to supply a defense. Each side has the opportunity to ask questions of all witnesses called to testify.
The judge decides what evidence is proper or admissible. The judge must apply the rules of evidence according to the law. Although the judge decides what evidence you may consider, you decide if that evidence is believable and how important it is to the case.
After presentation of all the evidence, the attorneys will sum up the case from their perspectives. Taking turns, each side will tell you what he or she believes the evidence shows and why it favors his or her side.
The judge will instruct you on your duties as jurors either before or after the attorneys present their closing arguments. The judge will also tell you about the law that applies to the case.
After instructions and closing arguments, the bailiff or court attendant will escort you to the jury room where you and the other jurors will deliberate. First, you will select one of the jurors as foreperson. He or she leads the discussion and tries to encourage everyone to join in. Do not be afraid to speak out during deliberations. The whole idea of a jury is to come to a decision after full and frank discussion of the evidence and the instructions, based on calm, unbiased reasoning. In civil cases, it takes nine jurors to reach a verdict. In criminal cases, all of the jurors must agree on the verdict.
When you have reached your verdict which may come after a few hours or several days the foreperson will record your verdict on an official form. They will tell the judge you are ready and you will return to the jury box. The judge will ask if you have reached a verdict. The foreperson will answer, handing the written verdict to the bailiff for delivery to the judge. The clerk will read it aloud and mark the record accordingly. Sometimes one or all of the parties will ask that the jury be "polled." This means that the judge or clerk will ask each juror individually if this is his or her own verdict. The juror's service will then be complete in most cases.
Parties involved in a case generally seek to settle their differences to avoid the expense, time and risks of a trial. Sometimes the case is settled or resolved just a few moments before the trials begins or even during the course of a trial. Jurors may have already been assigned to a case and may be asked to wait while last minute negotiations are taking place. Your time is not wasted as your very presence in the court encourages resolution!
If a case does settle, the judge may instruct you to report to another courtroom for jury selection on a different case or the judge may release you altogether. If you are released, you will not be called again for at least one year.