24th District Court     


 

Jury Duty

Overview
Your Responsibilities as a Potential Juror
Your Role as a Juror
Civil Cases
Criminal Trials
Jury Selection
The Trial
Witnesses
Order of Presentation
Jury Deliberations
The Verdict


Overview

Jury service is one of the most serious duties that members of a free society are asked to perform.  Our system of self-government could not exist without it.  The United States is one of the very few nations in the world that trusts its citizens enough to allow them to decide the fate of their peers through the jury process.   This section is designed for prospective jurors to familiarize themselves with the legal process and some of the legal terms they will encounter as well as informing about the legal obligations of jury duty.

If you have been called for jury duty at the 24th District Court and are unable to attend for any reason, it is imperative that you call the court to be excused at (313) 928-0535 x 228 or 229.  If you fail to appear when called for jury duty and are not excused, you may be held in contempt of court.

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Your Responsibilities as a Potential Juror

If you have been summoned to appear at the 24th District Court as a potential juror, you must be present at the court at the time designated on your summons.   If you are unfamiliar with where the court is located, click here for directions.   When you arrive at the court, check in at the front counter.  If your name or address, as recorded on your summons, has since changed, please inform the clerk immediately.  If you are selected to serve as a juror in a trial, the court will instruct you as to your starting time, lunch hour and dismissal time.  The lunch hour is subject to change, depending on courtroom activity.

There is no smoking allowed in the courthouse.  Juror badges must be worn at all times while in the building.  If you lose or damage your badge, replacement badges are available from the court clerks.  The court cannot be responsible for your personal belongings, so it is important to keep items such as your coat, hat and purse with you at all times. 

If your employer requires proof of jury service, the court will furnish you with this.  Letters may be obtained from the window clerk at the end of the day.  Whether you are actually selected to sit on a jury or not, you are not eligible to serve in this court again for one year from the date that you appear for jury duty.  Your pay as a juror is set by state law at $17.00 per day and $9.50 per half-day, including mileage.   A check will be issued and mailed to you within 2 to 4 weeks from your last date of service.  You may wish to check your employer's policy regarding juror pay.

Please remember that even in the most efficiently run juror systems, there are unpredictable events that affect the disposition of cases.  There may be last-minute postponements and many cases are settled on the date of trial.  Countless other legal and human factors result in delay, causing jurors to wait.  However, you must remember that the jury system is an essential element in our legal system and thus citizens must be available to be impaneled on very short notice.  Be assured that even if you are not selected to sit on a jury, your presence alone is an important part of insuring that our judicial system functions properly.

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Your Role as a Juror

The classic phrase used in regard to jury trials is "a jury of one's peers".  In the American judicial system, the responsibility of determining the facts of the case and reaching a decision is not entrusted with the government, but rather a small cross-section of the community - fellow citizens of the parties to the lawsuit.   Your role as a juror is vital, since the jury must decide all disputed questions of fact.  The judge will offer some direction to the jurors through instructions on the law, resolving legal issues and maintaining decorum by acting as an unbiased referee for the proceedings.  You must consider all of the evidence presented at the trial and determine what the facts of the case truly are.  Then during deliberations, you will apply the law, as the judge instructs you, to these facts in order to come to a final decision.

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Civil Cases

There are two distinct types of cases, which a jury may be empanelled to hear: criminal and civil.  In a criminal case, an attorney representing the interests of the community (the prosecutor) is bringing charges against an individual (the defendant) to determine whether he or she committed a crime.  Civil cases involve disputes between private individuals or groups.

The party who brings legal action in a civil case is known as the plaintiff and the party against whom the lawsuit is filed is called the defendant.  At the initiation of the lawsuit, the defendant receives a copy of two documents, the summons (which calls the defendant before the court) and the complaint (which outlines the specific allegations being brought by the plaintiff against the defendant). 

The complaint will claim that the defendant has committed some wrong against the plaintiff, such as causing bodily injury or property damage.  It will also ask the court to provide some form of legal relief (a remedy for the wrong committed) which may include an award of damages or an order for the defendant to do (or abstain from doing) some action.  The defendant at this time must file an answer to the complaint, allowing him or her to deny the validity of the plaintiff's accusations.  All of these documents are exchanged between the parties before a trial takes place.

The above scenario describes the usual process in a simple civil suit, but many cases will be more complex.  There may be more than one plaintiff or defendant.   Also, the defendant may be filing a simultaneous lawsuit against the plaintiff (called a counterclaim), another defendant (called a cross-claim) or someone not originally involved in the litigation but later added (a third-party defendant).  In addition, the plaintiff or defendant may not even be an individual person, but rather a partnership, corporation or the government.   Regardless of the parties to the action, the purpose of a civil trial is resolve the dispute between those involved.

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Criminal Trials

The purpose of a criminal trial is to determine whether or not a particular defendant has committed a crime.  These cases are brought by an attorney representing the government in the name of "the people" of the jurisdiction where the law was violated.  This is due to the fact that laws are written by representatives of a community, and are elected by citizens to serve their interests.   Therefore, since representatives of "the people" wrote the law broken by the defendant, a representative of these same people should prosecute the violation.

When someone violates a city ordinance (a law passed by the city council), the people of Allen Park or Melvindale are represented by a city prosecutor.   If a state statute was violated (law passed by the Michigan Legislature and signed by the Governor), the people are represented by an attorney from the Wayne County Prosecutor's office.

A criminal complaint is filed with the court before the trial, which contains all charges against a particular defendant at issue.  The complaint may include several counts, where more than one law was violated at a specific time by the same person.  An example of this would be driving with a suspended license while intoxicated, both of which are illegal in the state of Michigan.

After the complaint is filed with the court, the defendant is arraigned by a judge or magistrate.  At this time, the accused is informed of the charges and the possible penalties that could be assessed.  The defendant is then asked to plead guilty (accept responsibility), not guilty (forcing the government to prove the charges), no contest (meaning the defendant is not going to challenge the charges brought) or stand mute (which results in the court entering a plea of not guilty on the defendant's behalf).  If there are multiple charges for a defendant, he or she is required to enter a plea on each charge separately.

The rules governing criminal procedure are slightly different from those relating to civil cases.  The judge will explain to jurors any specific rules relating to your case.  If you have any questions about any of the judge's instructions, you should ask for further explanation.

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Jury Selection

All persons on the jury panel are selected at random to be called for jury duty.  The first step in a jury trial is to select the necessary number of jurors for the case, from the jury pool.  Names are drawn at random from the jury panel and those who are called take seats in the jury box.  The judge will make a short statement explaining what the case is about.  Then the judge and/or attorneys will question each of you to see whether there is any reason why you cannot be a fair and impartial juror in that case.  This is called the voir dire examination.

The questions may be based on your answers to a Juror Personal History Questionnaire.  They may deal with your personal life and your beliefs, because these could affect your attitude toward one side or another.   You should answer these questions honestly and completely, and if there is any reason why you feel that you should not serve as a juror, you should explain why.

A juror who is related to, or friends with, any of the parties may be disqualified from the case.  Other criteria that could result in a juror being excused for cause (removed from the jury) include prior business dealings with one of the attorneys, having a fixed opinion on what the outcome should be before the trial starts or having too much outside knowledge on the facts of the case.  In addition, each side may excuse a certain number of jurors without giving a reason, called a preemptory challenge.  If you are removed from the jury by being excused for cause or through a preemptory challenge, you should understand that this is a normal part of the jury selection process and nothing personal. 

When both sides are finished challenging jurors, those selected are sworn to try the case.

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The Trial 

Civil and criminal trials are conducted in similar ways.  The plaintiff's attorney (in a civil case) or the prosecuting attorney (in a criminal case) will generally begin with a short opening statement.  The defendant's lawyer may then make a similar opening statement, wait until after the plaintiff's case has been fully presented or choose not to make one at all.  Opening statements will usually tell the jurors what each party believes the facts to be, as well as an outline of what that side will try to prove through evidence and testimony.  Remember that opening statements are not evidence, but rather an strategic overview of how each side is going to attempt to present their case.

Evidence may take the form of testimony (oral questioning of a witness) or exhibits (tangible items admitted into evidence by the court).   In some instances, judges may allow prior witness statements made under oath (a deposition transcript) to be read to the jury or videotaped testimony to be used.

Your decision as a juror must be based only on the evidence admitted during the trial.  Evidence is the testimony of witnesses, any exhibits accepted by the court and any stipulations (agreements) reached by the parties.  During the trial, you should not discuss the case with anyone including family members, friends, outside parties, attorneys, witnesses or even other jurors.  In addition, you should not even be in the presence of someone who is improperly discussing the case.  If anyone tries to talk to you about the case, it is best to simply state that you are a juror and precluded from discussing a case in progress.  If the person persists, report it to the judge at the first opportunity.  When the trial is over, you may discuss the case with whomever you wish. 

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Witnesses

Parties to a lawsuit are entitled to call witnesses to testify, who are sworn to tell the truth.  The attorney who calls a witness will ask general questions, designed to bring out answers that support the facts their side is trying to prove (called direct examination).  Sometimes the attorney may call the opposing party (a hostile witness).  The attorney is permitted to cross-examine a hostile witness.

Cross-examination involves the asking of leading questions, usually answered with a "yes" or "no".  This is normally done after direct examination is completed by the other party's counsel.  The purpose is to bring out information about the witness' testimony or reliability, which may clarify or discredit the testimony given on direct examination.  When cross-examination is completed, the attorney who called the witness may ask further questions to bolster the testimony of their witness, called re-direct examination.

Questioning of witnesses is conducted under the rules of evidence, designed to insure fairness to the parties.  For instance, a witness generally may only testify about information that they know firsthand (personal knowledge).   The witness is generally not permitted to testify to what someone else has said, known as hearsay, since this type of evidence is considered to be unreliable since it involves not what someone saw, but rather what they were told.  Also, evidence which is excessively prejudicial to a party, irrelevant to the proceedings or redundant may be excluded by the judge under the rules.

During the examination of a witness, an attorney may object if the attorney for the other side asks an improper question.  The judge may agree that the question was improper (sustain the objection) and require it be rephrased or withdrawn, or rule that the question was proper and allow an answer (overrule the objection).

A witness is required to answer a proper question, but is limited in his or her answer to what was asked.  If a witness exceeds the scope of the question in the answer or responds improperly, the judge may order the jury to disregard the statement.  When this happens, jurors are to exclude that particular testimony from consideration in the case.

You should pay close attention to each witness, since you will be deciding the case based on what you see and hear in the courtroom.  If there is a conflict in testimony between witnesses, you may have to decide which of them to believe.

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Order of Presentation

When the plaintiff's attorney (civil case) or the prosecuting attorney (criminal case) has finished presenting evidence, that side will rest.  At this time, the defendant's attorney may present witnesses and evidence, but is not required to do so.   If the defense decides to present a case, the plaintiff is allowed to make a rebuttal case after its completion.

After both sides have presented their case to the jury, each attorney presents a closing argument.  This summarizes the evidence presented by the party making the argument as well as providing reasons why the jury should believe their version of the facts.  Listen to these arguments carefully, but remember closing arguments are not evidence.  The statements are not based on firsthand knowledge and is simply a summary of the case presented.  As a juror, you must weigh all of the evidence and consider it in light of the judge's instructions.

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Jury Deliberations  

After the closing arguments, the judge informs the jury about the law which applies to the case, called jury instructions.  When the jurors come to an agreement on the facts of a case, they use the jury instructions to apply the law and come to a decision on the case.

After hearing the jury instructions, the jury moves into the jury room to consider the case and reach a verdict.  All of the jury deliberations must take place in the jury room, with all jurors present, and nowhere else.  Once inside the jury room, the first order of business is to select a foreperson.  His or her job is to insure that discussions are carried out in an orderly fashion, issues before the jury are properly discussed and every juror has the opportunity to be heard.  The foreperson conducts all juror balloting and is the individual who signs any request that the jury may make to the judge.  To assist in its deliberation, the jury may, in writing, request to see any of the exhibits introduced into evidence during the trial or ask for clarification of any of the judge's instructions.  Any exhibit brought into the jury room should be handled with care, to avoid damaging or changing it in any way.

Discussion in the jury room should be open and frank, with jurors speaking their minds.  Jurors should respect the right of others to voice their opinions and be willing to listen to them.  You can change your mind if you become persuaded that your first opinion was mistaken, but should not allow yourself to be swayed solely by peer pressure.  The goal of jury deliberation is to reach an agreement on a verdict, but no juror should try to force another to adopt a particular position.   Courteous and reasonable discussion is always the best way to reach a just and fair decision.  In a case where it is absolutely impossible to reach a decision, the foreperson may report to the judge that the jury is deadlocked.  The judge may ask whether the jury needs any points clarified at this time.  Unless persuaded that it would be useless to do so, the judge will almost always ask the jury to return for further deliberation, since a deadlocked jury can result in having the parties start over and have a new trial.

It is natural that differences of opinion will arise within a jury.   When they do, each juror should not only express their opinion, but also the reasons upon which it is based.  By reasoning the matter out, it is often possible for all of the jurors to come to an agreement, but this may take time.  In the course of your deliberations, do not hesitate to re-examine your own views and change your opinion, if you are convinced that it is wrong.  However, none of you should surrender your honest convictions regarding the weight and effect of the evidence solely because of the opinions of your fellow jurors or for the mere purpose of coming to a verdict.

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The Verdict

The verdict in a criminal case must be unanimous.  In a civil case, five of the six jurors must agree to a verdict unless the parties have agreed to something else.  The foreperson will report to the judge when a verdict has been reached and it will be read in open court.  Any party may ask for a poll of the jury, meaning that each juror will be asked individually whether they agree with the verdict reached.   The losing party may later appeal to a higher court on technical questions of law or procedure, but the jury's findings of fact are almost always regarded as final and are very rarely set aside by the judge or a higher court.  Therefore, delivering a fair and impartial verdict is imperative to the functioning of our system of justice. 

After the completion of the trial, the judge will thank you for your service and you will be dismissed.  You can take pride in knowing that you have served a role in the insuring the proper functioning of the American system of justice.

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