The Civil Lawsuit
Pleadings: A suit is commenced when the plaintiff files a complaint in court, and in response, the defendant files an answer. The papers are known as pleadings. These papers establish the issues to be tried. Pleadings are not evidence. They are merely contentions of the parties.
Jury Selection: The court and counsel for both parties will ask you questions. These questions are intended to discover if you have any prior knowledge of the case, a private opinion which cannot be set aside, or a personal experience or relationship which could make you take sides with either party. The questions are intended to ensure impartial jurors. Although you are qualified to serve as a juror, something might disqualify you in a particular case.
The attorney for each side may challenge any prospective juror either for cause or without an apparent reason. This second type of challenge is called a peremptory challenge. Should you be challenged, the judge will decide whether or not you will be excused from service on that jury. However, by no means does this reflect on your ability or honesty. It only suggests that an attorney feels something in your personal background might make it difficult for you to decide in favor of his or her client.
Presentation of Evidence: After statements of contentions by both sides, the plaintiff presents evidence to support his or her position, followed by the defendant. The plaintiff may then offer additional evidence to explain or refute defendant’s evidence. Most evidence is presented by oral testimony of witnesses who testify under oath. The lawyer calling the witness first proceeds with direct examination, then the opposing lawyer proceeds with cross examination. After cross examination the first lawyer may ask additional questions on redirect examination.
Where a witness will not be available at the time of trial, oral testimony taken prior to the trial can be admitted by “reading into the record’ by attorneys or by showing to the jury on a video tape playback.
The Charge: At the conclusion of the evidence and final arguments, the judge will charge (instruct) the jurors as to the questions which they are to decide and the law to be applied to the evidence presented.
The Verdict: The jury then returns to the jury room to decide the facts based on the evidence presented. Any other questions involved are determined by applying the law as instructed by the judge. A fair verdict is of primary importance to both parties. In Ohio, civil cases require a vote of at least three-fourths of the jury to reach a verdict. As a juror, you are responsible for the correct determination of the facts which are in dispute. Errors in law can be corrected by the trial judge or by the appeals court, but a jury’s error of fact may never be corrected. Therefore, you can see that a serious responsibility has been placed upon you.
The State as a party: A criminal case involves the State (or municipality) as plaintiff against the defendant. Representing the state, the prosecuting attorney contends that the law has been broken. The defendant contends that he did not commit the offense charged or that there was justification. Crimes are identified in the Ohio Revised Code or in local ordinances. Punishment is provided for the guilty. Since crimes are considered to be against society as a whole, the government is responsible for enforcement. Every element of an alleged crime must be proven by the prosecutor. A plea of “not guilty” denies all the material allegations which are listed in the indictment. Unlike civil trials in Ohio, the jury must find a defendant in a criminal trial ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ by a unanimous vote.
The Jurors’ Oath
Jury candidates will be asked to stand and to swear to answer truthfully any questions about their qualifications to serve at a particular trial. Persons whose religious beliefs forbid this will be permitted to “affirm” willingness to perform required duties.
Weighing the Evidence
Evidence consists of witness testimony, exhibits, facts agreed upon by counsel, and facts the court requires you to accept. It does not include pleadings, opening statements, arguments of the attorneys, or testimony which has been stricken from the record. The judge is responsible for admitting evidence into the trial for your consideration. As a juror, you are responsible for deciding what is to be believed. You should not speculate as to why the judge sustained an objection, nor should you infer probable answers from suggestions made in questions left unanswered. In evaluating what testimony is worthy of belief, you may apply tests of truthfulness you would apply in your daily life. A witness need not be believed simply because he or she is under oath. You may believe or disbelieve all or any part of testimony given by any witness.
While a case is being tried, jurors may not talk about the case among themselves or with others, nor should they listen to outside conversations regarding the case. They may not mingle with lawyers or witnesses during a recess, nor may they accept such favors as a ride home from witnesses, parties or counsel. Should a juror be approached by any interested party, this communication should be reported immediately to the judge. Each juror must retain his or her impartiality. After the final arguments and instructions from the judge, the jury returns to the jury room. The first task is the selection of a foreperson to conduct proceedings. Discussion should be in an orderly fashion, with issues well understood and fairly discussed. Each juror should contribute his or her views to every question. After a free exchange of ideas, jurors should not hesitate to change their original opinions should they feel convinced that another view is better. The foreperson directs the taking of ballots, is responsible for the evidence, and delivers the final verdict to the court at the conclusion of the trial.