Juror Check-in and Orientation
When jurors initially report to the courthouse for jury service, they “check in” with the jury office and go through an orientation process. This orientation generally includes:
- Opening remarks made by a member of the Court’s staff, which cover logistical matters;
- A juror orientation video; and
- A greeting and review of the statutory qualifications to serve as a juror by one of the Court’s judges.
One-Day / One-Trial System
The Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri uses a one-day / one-trial system as part of its jury process. Under this system, jurors are summoned for a specific day rather than being subject to being called for jury service during a longer term. The terms used by other courts can range from one or more weeks to several months. However, in order to minimize the amount of time that jurors’ normal lives are disrupted, the Circuit Court of Jackson County summons jurors for a date certain and instructs them to call or check the Court's website the night before their service to assure that there has been no change in their reporting instructions. Sometimes, the Court cancels all or part of the jurors it has summoned, and jurors can determine this by following the call-in instructions.
When jurors are required to report, they generally go through only one jury selection process. If selected, they serve for the duration of that particular trial. If not selected, their service is often complete at the end of the selection process, which is frequently completed on the first day a juror is required to report; hence the term “one-day / one-trial”.
A judge who has a case set for trial will request a group of prospective jurors called a panel from the jury office. These panels usually consist of 40 to 60 people who are randomly selected by the computer from that day’s jury pool. From this panel, 12 jurors plus one or more alternate jurors are selected to serve as the jury for the trial. The selection of jurors and alternate jurors is done through the voir dire process where members of the jury panel are questioned under oath by the judge and the attorneys involved in the case.
The Trial Process
Once a jury has been selected and the members sworn, the trial gets underway. Jurors are required to follow strict rules during the trial. These rules include:
- Not discussing the case with anyone;
- Not reaching any conclusions on the case until all the evidence has been presented; and
- Wearing their juror badges throughout their service. This helps prevent others from interacting with the jurors or from talking about the case in front of the jurors and possibly causing a mistrial.
In both criminal and civil cases, the trial begins with opening statements from the attorneys representing each side of the case. Opening statements are an overview of the case from each side’s perspective. Jurors should not consider these statements as evidence.
In civil cases, the plaintiff’s attorney presents the plaintiff’s side first, and then the defense presents its opening statement. In criminal cases, the attorney for the State of Missouri presents its opening statement first. The defense is not required to present an opening statement. The state is required to prove its case. A criminal defendant is not under any obligation to prove or disprove anything, and may choose to forego an opening statement.
Following opening statements, evidence is presented to the Court and to the jury. Evidence may be oral testimony or exhibits, such as written documents or physical objects like weapons, photographs, or clothing.
After all the evidence has been presented, each side may present a closing statement. Closing statements are summaries of the case and are not evidence. In the closing statement, attorneys can suggest remedies or reasons for reaching a certain verdict. Although the jurors should carefully consider the closing statements, each juror should form his or her own opinions about the case.
The judge presents instructions to the jury about points of law related to the case. These instructions are intended to assist the jury in applying the specifics of the law to the facts of the case. Jurors must follow the judge’s instructions on the law, even if the instructions differ from what the juror might understand through reading the law. Any questions that arise from the instructions should be asked of the judge through his/her staff. Each instruction is of equal value, so jurors should give them equal consideration.
Once the jury has received the instructions and all closing statements have been made, the jury is sent to a jury deliberation room to decide the case. The jury’s first task is to select a foreperson who is responsible for seeing that discussions are open and orderly, that the issues before the jury are freely discussed, and that every juror has the chance to participate in the discussions. The foreperson is also responsible for presenting the verdict to the Court.
During deliberations, exhibits entered into evidence are available for review by the jury. The degree of proof required is different in civil and criminal cases. In a civil case, the majority of the evidence must support the winning side. In a criminal case, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charge(s).
Often, jurors will disagree about how the case should be decided. It is very important that each view is freely expressed and considered. Following all discussion, each juror should vote only according to his/her honest opinion on the case. In a civil case, 75 percent of the jurors must agree on the verdict. In a criminal case, all jurors must agree on the verdict.
All jurors should consider and vote on each issue in the case. The foreperson is responsible to see that this is done. If the votes meet the standards for a verdict, the foreperson should notify the Court. If the jury is unable to reach an agreement after an open and honest discussion of all issues involved, and if the members of the jury are convinced that an agreement will not be reached, the foreperson must notify the Court. When this happens, the judge decides whether to send the jury back into deliberation or to dismiss the jury. If the judge decides to dismiss the jury, the case may be tried again with a different jury.
Once the jury has concluded its deliberations and delivered the verdict, jurors are free to discuss the case with anyone they choose, including the media, but are not required to do so.