Rules Regarding Your Jury Trial

Table of Contents

I. INTRODUCTION

II. PREVIEW OF THINGS TO COME

A. The Courtroom

B. Trial Procedure

C. The Courtroom Personnel

III. ETIQUETTE

A. Be on Time

B. Communicate with Notes

C. Stand Up

D. Gum Chewing, Drinks, Smoking, etc.

IV. APPEARANCE

A. Generally

B. Women

C. Men

V. DIRECT EXAMINATION

A. Be Prepared

B. Facial Expressions/Gestures/Emotions

C. Be Concise

D. Tell the Truth

E. Occasionally Address the Judge/Jury

F. Humor



I. INTRODUCTION

While the majority of pretrial preparation is completed by your attorney, your role is very significant in the trial of your case. It is important to remember that you will be the center of attention. Everyone in the courtroom will be watching your movements, facial expressions, gestures and conduct.

Your role during the trial is to make the jury like you; to give them a reason to rule in your favor. Many will agree that the trial of a case is not reality. It is a fantasy period in which the jury will perceive what the truth is; which may or may not be the same thing as the actual truth.

As such it is essential that you make the best impression possible upon the jury. You must leave them with feelings of honesty, trust worthiness, and goodness. You must be someone the jury wants to help. The following are areas you should consider in the presentation of yourself to the jury.

II. PREVIEW OF THINGS TO COME

A. The Courtroom

While your attorney will explain the characteristics of your particular courtroom, some characteristics are common to most every courtroom. As you walk in you will notice several very distinct divisions of the courtroom. First, the gallery will be a large area for public sealing. This is where observers and the jury panel will be seated. Second, the front part of the gallery will be divided from another section by a "bar". Across this dividing line will be an area where the attorneys will sit and work. It's generally accepted that clients are not permitted in this area unless they are accompanied by their attorney. Third, is the Judge's Bench. The Judge's Bench is usually elevated and is the focal point of the Courtroom. The court's staff will generally sit to the Judge's sides. Lastly, there is the jury box. The jury box is where the members of the jury sit. The "box" is generally located to a side of the courtroom and between the judge and counsel tables. The jury box is also generally next to the jury deliberation room and doorway. This doorway gives the jury easy access in and out of the courtroom without much contact with litigants.

B. Trial Procedure

1. ORDER OF PROCEEDINGS

The first experience you will have in the courtroom will most likely be Voir Dire examination. "Voir Dire" means to "speak the truth". This is the portion of the trial in which the actual jury of 12, in district court, or of 6 in county court, is selected from the larger jury panel. During voir dire examination, each side will have an opportunity to ask the panel questions with the intent of determining which jurors are impartial to the case.

Once the jury is selected the court will give each side a chance to make an opening statement. This statement 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 party who filed the suit first, will begin his case in chief. This is the main part of the case in which the parties introduce evidence through witnesses and documentation. Once the Petitioner is completed with all his evidence, the Respondent will begin his case in chief.

Once each party has completed their case in chief each party will introduce "rebuttal" testimony. Rebuttal evidence is evidence that is admitted to refute what has already been introduced into evidence by the other side. Rebuttal evidence is much more limited than the evidence in the main portion of the case.

Once all evidence is completed, each attorney will make a closing argument. Closing arguments are the last time the attorneys will address the jury. Closing arguments are very important. This is the time that each side is able to tell the jury what they think the evidence showed and what they want the jury to do in their deliberations.

After the closing arguments, the Judge will give the jury members the Charge and Special Questions. The (Charge is essentially the Judge's instructions to the jury members on how to act and how to deliberate. The Special Questions are the questions the jury will answer, based on the evidence of the case.

C. The Courtroom Personnel

1. THE JUDGE

The presiding Judge is the focal point of the trial and the center of attention in the courtroom. It is the Judge's job to preside over the trial and to make sure that all attorneys, witnesses and jury panel members comply with the law during the course of the trial. His role may appear to be somewhat passive at first glance, but in reality he is continually watching for impropriety and making rulings on the attorney's objections. It is also the judge's job to instruct the jury panel on how to deliberate at the end of the trial.

2. THE COURT REPORTER

It is the court reporter's job to record everything that's said during the course of the trial. He or she makes the record by using a special language that is typed with a machine called a stenograph. Most court reporters also use a tape recorder to make sure that everything is taken down and recorded accurately.

The court reporter is also responsible for marking each piece of documentation that is offered and/or introduced into evidence. The court reporter is also responsible for the safe keeping of each document.

3. THE BAILIFF

The bailiff's job is essentially two fold. First, the bailiff is charged with the responsibility of keeping order in the courtroom.

This task can range from subduing an angry litigant to merely keeping people from talking while court is in session. Some bailiffs are armed and in uniform while others are not.

Second, the bailiff is charged with the responsibility of caring for the jury. The bailiff is often times referred to as a "jury shepherd'. Once the jury is empaneled, the bailiff is the only person that can communicate with them.

4. THE COURT CLERK

Often times the judge will have a clerk in the courtroom. The clerk generally will sit at a desk to the side of the judge. It is the clerk's responsibility to handle the court's files and to file and stamp new documents. The clerk is also the person that handles the court's docket The court's docket is the schedule of cases that the judge hears.

III. ETIQUETTE

A. Be on Time

It is very important for you to be on time. Many judges and juries will 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. When the judge says to be back in fifteen minutes, it is important for you to be back in fifteen minutes.

B. Communicate With Notes

During the course of the trial you will be assisting your attorney in many ways. When you communicate with him, it's important for you to do so by written notes Many Judges consider it rude to be continually talking while court is in session. It can also be distracting to your attorney. An easy solution is to simply write and pass to your attorney short informal notes on the matter at hand.

C. Stand Up

When the judge and/or jury enters the courtroom or leaves the courtroom, it is important for you to stand up. This is a long held rule of courtesy and respect and should be remembered.

D. Gum Chewing, Drinks, Smoking, etc.

As a general rule, most judges prohibit any kind of smoking or drinks inside the courtroom. Occasionally, there will be pitchers of water at counsel table, but rarely will the judge permit you to bring in a soft drink or coffee. As such it is important to remember to keep all drinks outside the courtroom before and after breaks. This rule also applies to food as well.

Likewise, judges generally do not permit anyone to chew gum while they are in the courtroom. Judge's tend to see an act such as that as disrespectful. Gum chewing also looks bad in front of a jury. It can be distracting and it takes away from other events occurring in the courtroom.

IV. APPEARANCE

A. Generally

The way you look inside a courtroom is very important. Remember, your job is to present yourself to the jury in such a way that they will want to help you. One way to achieve this is to have a good appearance. The way you dress, the way you move and the way you act will influence the jury in some way. The question is whether it will be a positive effect or a negative effect.

B. Women

It's extremely important to dress in a manner that you are comfortable with and in a style that is truly "you". Don't try to dress in a manner that is not "you". Juries are extremely observant and will probably pickup on the fact that you are trying to be something you are not.

"Appropriate dress" might change from county to county. The key is to always appear neat and well kept. It is generally accepted for women to wear a dress, slacks, or a suit in court. Try to avoid wearing jeans. It is also important to avoid clothing that is distracting. Clothing that is tight fitting or low cut should probably be avoided.

It is also important to discuss with your attorney the "image" you are trying to convey to the jury. Pastel colors and flowered prints tend to present a "softer" image. Solid colors and suits tend to present a more "businesslike" image.

"Extremes" should also be avoided. Bold colors, heavy makeup, high fashion, large jewelry, and high heels should not be worn in most instances. This is usually all the more true in smaller, rural counties.

Hair should also be worn in a manner that you are comfortable with. Again, high fashion should be avoided. If there is a question on how to wear your hair, the style that is more conservative will be fine.

It is important to remember that you don't have to buy an entire new wardrobe for your case. Money and expensive clothes will not win your case. The key is to appear neat and well kept no matter what you wear.

C. Men

The same basic rules apply for men. Dress in a manner that is truly "you". You must appear neat and well kept. Nice slacks, a sports jacket or a suit, are well accepted in virtually every court in the state. Most judges like to see a man wear a tie in court, whether you wear a jacket or not.

Jeans should also be avoided. There are a few counties where jeans, a jacket and boots are appropriate. Ask your attorney. If your trial is in one of these counties, that particular style will be fine.

Just as it is with women, it is very important for you to avoid wearing anything that is distracting. Tight pants, big watches or jewelry, and bold colors should all be avoided. Shirts should not be unbuttoned below the first button. Socks should always be worn.

It is also important to discuss with your attorney the "image" you are trying to convey to the jury. Slacks without a jacket will convey a more "relaxed" image. A suit, of course, will present a more "businesslike" image.

"Extremes" should again be avoided. Bold colors, big expensive watches or necklaces and high fashion clothing should not be worn. Consider also the effect an earring will have on the image you are trying to convey.

It is also important to be clean shaven. If you have a beard or a mustache make sure it is properly groomed. Hair style is also important for men. It is important to consider what effect a ponytail or long hair will have on the image you are trying to convey.

V. DIRECT EXAMINATION

A. Be Prepared

Testimony that is in response to questions by your own attorney is called direct examination. Your testimony will be one of the pivotal points of the trial. You must be fully prepared. Your lawyer will spend several hours with you making sure you are aware of the subjects of inquiry.

Once you're on the stand, you're on your own. As such, you must also be prepared on how to convey the content of your testimony.

B. Facial Expressions/Gestures/Emotions

Remember the jury is watching your every move. You must take care not to show too much emotion. Don't get angry. Don't show disgust through facial expressions. Don't use wild gestures.

It's important to show the jury, that although you're under the stress of being in litigation, you are under control. Sit back in the witness chair and calmly answer all questions you are asked.

C. Be Concise

Listen to the questions you are asked. Make sure that you only answer the question you're asked. Don't ramble. Once you've answered the question, stop. Wait for the next question. It is usually a good idea to answer as many questions as possible with a yes or no answer. Be short, but be complete. If you're asked to explain a certain answer, do so. Take as long as you need, but when you're finished don't go on to something else.

D. Tell The Truth

The truth is very simple. You never get into trouble by telling the truth. Before you testify you will be sworn to tell the truth. Make sure that you do. If you have questions about certain areas of your testimony or if you're worried about "how" to say something, ask your attorney. If you are concerned about whether to say "the cup is half full" or "the cup is half empty", ask your attorney. Deciding how best to say something is not wrong if it is still the truth.