Participating in a Jury Trial
Participants in a Trial
Judges preside over the trial, instruct the jury, make rulings on points of law and have general charge over the proceedings of the trial and its participants.
Parties in a civil trial are referred to as the Plaintiff and Defendant. In a criminal trial, parties are referred to as the State of Washington, represented by the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney; and the Defendant (the person charged with the crime).
Attorneys participate in the trial as advocates for the parties in controversy by presenting their client's case.
Witnesses present testimony under oath concerning what they have seen or know about the facts of the case.
Court Reporters record verbatim everything that is said during the course of trial. The Court Reporter is responsible for preparing a typewritten transcript of the trial if requested by either party.
Lawclerks/Bailiffs are assistants to the Judge. They are responsible for opening court, assembling the necessary parties, and maintaining order in the courtroom. Additionally, the bailiff sees to the comfort of jurors and protects the jury from outside interference while they are serving on a specific trial.
Court Clerks are independent witnesses during proceedings who produce a general minute entry for filing in the court file, administer oaths, mark and maintain custody of exhibits, receive verdicts and exercise other powers and duties conferred and imposed by statute.
Process of a Jury Trial
The trial court judge will request a panel of prospective jurors to begin the jury selection process. The Judge and the trial attorneys will begin a process referred to as "Voir Dire". This questioning process is conducted to determine whether you have opinions or attitudes which would bias you in favor or disfavor of either side. While some questions may be personal in nature, they are not intended to embarrass or make you feel uncomfortable. They are asked to determine if there is a reason you should not sit on the case. If you are uncomfortable answering the questions, tell the judge and the attorneys may ask the questions in private.
Once selected as a juror, you will need to listen to the judge, witnesses and attorneys, consider the evidence presented, and make an intelligent and just decision based on the evidence presented to you following the instructions provided by the Court.
The trial will begin with opening statements by the attorneys for both sides. The attorneys will explain their client's position and what they expect to prove. These statements are not considered evidence but are an introduction to what the attorneys intend to prove by presenting evidence in the case.
Plaintiff/State and Defendant's case
After opening statements the Plaintiff/State will proceed to put on its evidence prior to the Defendant putting on his/her case. Witnesses are examined, under oath, by the attorney who called them to testify, and then cross-examined by the other attorney. Exhibits may be presented and admitted as evidence in the form of a written document, objects such as a gun, a photograph, x-ray or some other tangible thing.
Attorneys may make objections during the trial in an effort to limit the testimony being presented. Objections are a legal and proper part of the trial process. If the judge sustains the objections, the evidence or testimony is not proper. If the judge overrules the objections, the line of questioning may continue.
After all the evidence has been presented during the trial, the judge will instruct you on the law that applies to the case. As a juror you must consider all of the instructions and give them equal consideration regardless of the order in which they are given.
During closing argument, both attorneys will have an opportunity to summarize their positions and review the facts of the case. You should listen to these summations carefully and consider them thoughtfully, but they are not evidence and should not be considered as evidence.
After closing arguments the bailiff will escort the jury to the jury room to begin deliberations. The jurors must select a presiding juror who will preside over the deliberations. You will discuss the evidence and attempt to arrive at a fair and impartial verdict based on the facts presented during the trial and the law as given by the Judge's Instructions. When deliberations are complete, you will return to the courtroom to declare your verdict.