If you’ve received a jury summons or have already been selected to sit on a jury, you’re probably wondering what you can expect from a trial. The flow of a trial is similar in criminal and civil cases, with some very important distinctions.
When it comes to criminal trials, you will be asked to determine whether or not the defendant is guilty of the crimes charged by the state. In a civil trial for personal injury claims, you will be asked to determine if the defendant is legally liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, and if so, how much the defendant should pay to compensate the plaintiff.
The Phases Of a Personal Injury Trial
A personal injury trial typically consists of the following six phases:
- Jury selection (also known as voir dire)
- Opening Statements by the Plaintiff’s Attorney then the Defendant’s Attorney.
- Witness testimony and cross-examination.
- Closing Arguments by the Plaintiff’s Attorney then the Defendant’s Attorney.
- Jury instructions are given by the presiding Judge.
- Jury deliberations and verdict.
For in-depth information on the phases of trial, read our article here.
Getting Selected to Sit on a Jury
Before a trial can begin, the attorneys must select a jury. The Court will assemble a panel of prospective jurors so that they may be questioned by the attorneys of each side. Your duty as a prospective juror is to answer the questions asked of you honestly.
Many jurors will be summoned to show up for jury duty, but only a small number of those summoned will actually be selected to serve on a jury on that given day. A 2012 survey found that 27% of U.S. adults said they had served on a jury. Consider though that is across multiple jury summons over the years.
What a Juror Can Expect from Trial
One of the first things we want to share is that as a prospective juror, or once selected as a juror, you can expect to wait. There is a lot of waiting for the jurors as the court process proceeds. It may feel daunting to feel like you’re waiting around a lot, but we assure you that the process is moving forward and your service is important and necessary.
Jury sequestration is incredibly rare. It is ordered only in high-profile trials where there is concern that there is a risk of interference with the jurors objectivity in hearing and deliberating the case.
At the conclusion of both parties case-in-chief, the Judge will give jury instructions. These instructions provide the jurors with the legal standards they must apply in deciding whether the defendant should be held liable for the plaintiff’s damages. In the jury instructions the Judge will also lay out findings that the jury will need to make in order to arrive at certain conclusions. The jury instructions are supposed to make the jury deliberations run smoothly and make the job of the jurors easier.
Once the jury has its instructions, then they are released from the courtroom to begin jury deliberations. This is the time when the jurors discuss the evidence presented to them and attempt to agree on whether the defendant should be held liable for the plaintiff’s harm, and if so, what the appropriate amount of compensation will be.
In Nebraska, in a civil case if the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict within 6 hours of deliberations, then a verdict arrived at by 10 of a 12-person jury or 5 of a 6-person jury may be returned.
Jury Duty is an Important Civic Duty
The truth is Jurors make our community safer for all of us.
When a jury reaches a verdict, it speaks with a single voice on behalf of everyone in the community. The jury’s verdict in favor of an injured plaintiff is an enforcement of the rules and regulations that protect all of us — it is a verdict against the wrongful conduct by the defendant. While this cannot undo the harm done to the plaintiff already injured, it can and does prevent future injuries to others.
To those of you who have responded to the call for jury duty, thank you. While you may not be initially excited about jury duty, we hope if you are summoned in the future, you appreciate how important your service will be to stop dangerous behavior, and to making our community safer for our children, families, and neighbors.
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Matthew G. Miller serves clients throughout Eastern Nebraska and parts of Western Iowa including Douglas County, Sarpy County, Lancaster County, and Pottawattamie County, as well as the cities of Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue, Papillion, Fremont, Blair, Elkhorn, and Council Bluffs.