Prepared for jurors in the Circuit Courts of the Commonwealth by the Judicial Council of Virginia and available from The Office of the Executive Secretary, Supreme Court of Virginia, 100 North Ninth Street, Third Floor, Richmond, VA 23219.
How was I chosen for jury service?
Potential jurors are selected randomly by the jury commissioners using lists designated by the court, such as the voter registration list and the driver's license list. In some courts, this is done by hand, and in others, it is done by computer. Either way, the selection method is designed to produce a cross section of the community. Men and women over 18 years of age and from all walks of life have an equal opportunity to be called for jury service.
Do I have to respond to the summons to jury service?
Yes. The summons to jury service is an official court summons. If you do not respond, you could be held in contempt of court.
What if I can't perform jury services right now?
Your term of jury service might disturb your regular pattern of work and other activities. If this disruption causes you genuine hardship, not just inconvenience, it may be possible for you to defer your service to another time. However, this is done only in cause of genuine hardship or need. The judge decides whether your jury service can be deferred. If you feel that you can't perform your jury service at this time, call the number listed on your summons to discuss your situation.
You won't be excused because jury service is inconvenient or because you have a busy schedule, but you may be for reasons such as a physical ailment. If you have special conflicts on particular days during the term, the court may excuse you on those days.
What about my job?
Your employer can't fine, demote or otherwise penalize you for missing work while performing jury service. Many employees will continue to pay your salary while you are in jury service. Contact your employer to find out what the policy is at your job.
Will I be reimbursed for serving on a jury?
You will be reimbursed $30 per day for attendance for each day you must report to the courthouse. This amount is set by the state legislature.
How long will I be in jury service?
Jurors serve for one term of court. Depending on where you live, your term may be up to four months. Your summons will indicate the length and exact dates of the term you will serve.
What if an unexpected emergency keeps me from coming to the courthouse while I'm on a jury?
It is very important that all jurors report each day they are told to report and that they be on time. Your absence may delay a trial. If you have an emergency (such as a sudden illness or death in the family), call the court immediately.
How will I know what to expect and what to do during my jury service?
Most courts provide an orientation program for jurors to inform and educate them about jury service and the trial process. The orientation will inform you of the procedures for checking in on the days you must report to the courthouse, how you find out when to report, what the court's hours are, and what to do if you have an emergency during jury service. Additionally, you will learn about your role as a juror and what you should and should not do while in the courthouse or serving on a jury.
What hours will I serve?
You should report to the court at the date and time shown on your jury summons. At that time, you will be told the procedure for reporting to the court for the rest of the term and the court's normal business hours. On days that you report for jury service, you can expect to be at the court during the normal hours. If not selected for a jury, you may be able to leave early. Jurors will be given a lunch break and may be given other breaks during a trial. On occasion, a trial will continue beyond the court's normal working hours. If this happens, you may need to arrange your schedule to allow you to stay longer.
I have heard that sometimes jurors are not allowed to go home until after the trial is over. Will this happen to me?
Usually, jurors go home at the end of the day and return the next morning. However, in extremely rare cases, a jury will be "sequestered" during the trial or during the jury's deliberations. Sequestered means that instead of going home at the end of the day, jurors stay in hotels, where their access to other people and to radio and television news or newspapers is limited. This is usually to keep them from accidentally hearing something about the trial that wasn't told in court or from being influenced by news reports. This is important because juries must reach their decisions based only on what they've heard during the trial. In almost all Virginia jury trials, however, the jury goes home at the end of each day and is simply told not to discuss the case with anyone nor to watch, read or listen to news reports about the case. It is essential that you follow these instructions.
Is there anything I can do to make my jury service more comfortable, convenient and enjoyable?
Certainly! While efforts are made to reduce delay and avoid waiting time, you may have to wait awhile at the courthouse before you find out whether you have been chosen to actually sit on a jury (the reasons why are explained in the next section). So bring a book, some needlework, or other quiet activity; solve a crossword puzzle; write a letter; sketch a picture; or get to know your fellow jurors. Remember that as a juror, you are a vital part of the court system. Part of the job of many court employees, such as the bailiffs and the clerks, is to help make your jury service comfortable and convenient. Don't be afraid to ask them for help.
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Selecting juries for trials
Is it possible that I might report for jury service but not site on a jury?
Yes. The parties involved in a case generally seek to settle their differences and avoid the expense and time of a trial. Sometimes the case is settled just a few moments before the trial begins. So even though several trials are scheduled for a certain day, the court doesn't know until that morning how many will actually go to trial. But your time spent waiting is not wasted -- your very presence in the court encourages settlement.
How are jurors chosen to sit on a jury in a civil case?
When a trial is ready to begin, the bailiff calls potential jurors into the courtroom. If damages of less than $10,000 are claimed in the case, 11 jurors will be called. If damages of more than $10,000 are claimed, 13 jurors will be called. The clerk or bailiff asks the potential jurors to stand, hold up their right hands, and swear or affirm that they will truthfully answer the questions about to be asked of them. The judge will then tell you the names of the parties and their attorneys and briefly explain the nature of the case. The judge will ask if you are related to anyone involved in the case, have any financial or other interest in the outcome of the case, have formed or expressed an opinion or have any personal bias or prejudice that might affect how you decide the case. If you don't think you can make a fair and impartial decision for any reason, you should tell the judge at this time.
The attorneys for each side might also ask you some questions. If the judge concludes that you may not be able to make a fair decision, you will be asked to step down, and another prospective juror will be brought in to replace you. After the judge decides that all potential jurors are qualified to fairly and impartially hear the case, the clerk will compile a list of jurors and give it to the attorneys. Each side will remove three names from the list. They do not have to give reasons for removing these names. If the amount claimed is under $10,000, the final jury will have five members. If it is more than $10,000, the jury will have seven members. The remaining jurors then swear that they will hear the case and give a verdict they believe to be true. The trial is ready to begin.
Why are some jurors removed from the list?
Allowing both sides to participate in selecting the jury gives the parties the opportunity to feel that the jury will be fair and impartial when it decides the case. Being excused from a jury in no way reflects on your character or your competence as a juror, so you should not feel offended or embarrassed if your name is removed.
How are juries chosen in a criminal case?
The procedure for criminal cases is very similar to the procedure for civil cases. However, 20 prospective jurors are called for a felony trial, and the final jury will have 12 members. For a misdemeanor case, the final jury will have seven members. (The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor case is described in the next section.)
What are alternate jurors?
Sometimes, when the judge believes that a case is likely to last for more than a day or two, additional jurors will be chosen from those summoned for jury duty, questioned and challenged like other prospective jurors. The additional jurors are chosen to avoid having to retry the case should one or more jurors be excused from the jury during the trial for an emergency (such as illness), leaving too few jurors to decide the case. Throughout the trial, all jurors will sit together, paying careful attention to all the evidence. After closing argument, and before the jury retires to the jury room to decide the case, the judge will excuse from further jury duty enough jurors to reduce the number of jurors to the statutory number needed to decide the case.
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What are my responsibilities now that I'm part of a jury?
In any trial, two kinds of questions will have to be decided at various times. These are questions of law and questions of fact. The judge decides the questions of law. You decide the questions of fact. After you have decided the questions of fact, you will apply the law to the facts as directed by the judge at the end of the trial.
What is a "question of law?"
Questions of law involve the determination of what the law is. They may be about procedural matters (what information can be admitted as evidence, what kind of questions can be asked, which witnesses can appear, and what they can testify about). Or they may involve questions of substantive law, which create, define and regulate the rights of parties.
What is a "question of fact?"
Quite simply, it's deciding what really happened in a case. Don't be surprised if the evidence given by both sides is conflicting or if the testimony given by one witness contradicts another. After all, if everyone was in agreement about what happened and what should be done about it, the dispute probably wouldn't be in court, and a jury probably wouldn't be needed. Your job is to listen to all the testimony, consider all the evidence, and decide what you think really happened.
Who else will be in the courtroom? what will they be doing?
A number of people will be in the courtroom besides the judge, the jury and the attorneys. The list below explains who they are and what they'll be doing.
Plaintiff (civil case) -- In a civil case, the person who brought the case to court is called the plaintiff.
Defendant (civil case) -- The person being sued in a civil case is called the defendant.
Defendant (criminal case) -- A person who has been charged with a crime is the defendant in a criminal case.
Attorneys or counsel -- Attorneys representing the plaintiff, defendant or the government in a criminal case are also referred to as counsel. Depending on who they represent and what court you are in, you may hear them called "counsel for the plaintiff," "plaintiff's attorney," "counsel for the defendant," or "defense attorney." An attorney representing the government in a criminal case is called the prosecuting or Commonwealth's attorney.
Court reporter -- The court reporter keeps the official record by recording every word spoken during the trial.
Bailiff -- The bailiff keeps order, maintains the security of the court and helps the judge and the jury as needed.
Clerk of court -- The clerk of court, also called the clerk, maintains the court files and preserves the evidence presented during the trial. The clerk may also administer the oaths to jurors and witnesses.
Witnesses -- Each side in a trial will probably have a number of witnesses who have information about the dispute. Very often, the judge will ask them to wait outside the courtroom until it is their turn to testify. This is done so they won't hear each other's testimony and be influenced by it.
What happens during a civil trial?
After the clerk or bailiff has sworn in the jury, the case is ready to begin. Both attorneys may make opening statements explaining their client's position and outlining the evidence they expect to present that will support their claims. These statements are not evidence and should not be considered as such. The witnesses for the plaintiff are then called and questioned by the attorney for the plaintiff and cross-examined by the attorney for the defendant. After cross-examination, the plaintiff's attorney may reexamine some of the witnesses. After all the plaintiff's witnesses have been called and all the plaintiff's evidence has been presented, the attorney will tell the judge that the plaintiff rests.
Witnesses for the defendant may then be called. This time, the defendant's attorney questions the witnesses and the plaintiff's attorney cross-examines them. When all the defendant's witnesses and evidence have been presented, the defense will rest. After the defendant has finished, the plaintiff has the right to offer testimony in reply.
The judge and the attorneys will then go to the judge's chambers to consider the instructions the judge will give the jurors about the law of the case (this is discussed below). After the judge has decided on the instructions, the judge and the attorneys return to the courtroom. The judge reads the jury instructions to the jury, then the attorneys make their closing arguments. The closing arguments let each attorney tell the jury what they think the evidence proves and why their client should win. These closing arguments may help jurors recall many details of the case, but they are not evidence. The plaintiff's attorney speaks first, followed by the defendant's attorney. Finally, the plaintiff's attorney speaks again and closes the case.
What are jury instructions?
Jury instructions tell the jury what the laws are that govern a particular case. Each attorney gives the judge a set of proposed jury instructions. The judge considers each instruction and gives the ones that properly states the law that applies to the case. The jurors must accept and follow the law as instructed by the judge even though they may have a different idea about what the law is or ought to be.
Who awards damages in a civil case?
In a civil case, the jury not only decides on a verdict for one side or the other, but also awards damages. that is, if the jury determines that an award of money should be made, the jury decides how much money should be paid.
How are criminal cases tried?
Criminal cases are very similar to civil cases, except instead of a plaintiff, there is a prosecuting attorney. The prosecuting attorney may represent either the Commonwealth (the state) or a city, county or town.
What are the two types of criminal cases?
There are two kinds of criminal offenses: felonies and misdemeanors. A felony offense is one that can be punished by death or by a prison sentence of a year or more. If the felony offense is one that can be punished by death, it is called a capital offense. If the maximum punishment allowed by law is less than one year in confinement or only a fine, the offense is called a misdemeanor.
Who sets the punishment in criminal cases?
If the jury finds the defendant guilty in a criminal case, they set the punishment at the same time they decide their verdict. After a guilty verdict in capital cases, however, the jury hears evidence in a separate proceeding before deciding on the penalty.
Why do the attorneys object to certain statements or evidence?
An important part of an attorney's job is to protect the clients' rights during a trial. This includes making sure that the only evidence presented during the trial is evidence that is proper, relevant and allowed by law. So if evidence is submitted that the attorney feels is improper, or if the attorney feels that the other side is asking questions that are unlawful, the attorney will call out, "Objection!" By doing this, the attorney is asking the judge to rule on whether the law allows that particular piece of evidence or statement or question to be admitted. If the judge thinks it should be admitted, the judge will say, "Objection overruled." If the judge agrees that the evidence in question is improper, the judge will say, "Objection sustained." How often an attorney raises objections during the trial shouldn't bias you against that attorney's case.
Why is the jury sometimes asked to leave the courtroom in the middle of a trial?
The judge may decide to send the jury from the courtroom in the middle of a trial. While the jury is gone, the attorneys and the judge will discuss points of law or whether certain evidence can be admitted. The purpose of these discussions is to make sure that the jury hears only the evidence that is legally valid before making its decision. You will be called back to the courtroom when the judge's decision is made.
What should I do when testimony is stricken from the record?
You must disregard that testimony. Sometimes the jury hears testimony that the judge later decides they should not have heard. The judge will tell the jury to consider the case as if they had never heard it. You must follow the judge's instructions if the parties in the case are to receive a fair trial.
Can I talk to anyone about the trial while it's going on?
No. As long as the trial is still going on, do not discuss the trial with anyone. Do not even discuss the case with your fellow jurors until you begin your deliberations. When the trial is over, you can discuss it with anyone if you want to, or you may keep silent if you prefer.
Can I watch news reports of the trial or read newspaper accounts of it?
No, not as long as the trial is still going on.
What if I accidentally hear something about the trial outside the courtroom, or if someone contacts me about the trial while it is still going on, or if I realize during the trial that I have some special information that relates to the case?
Ask the bailiff to tell the judge immediately what has happened. Tell no one about the incident, except the bailiff or the judge.
What if I need a break during the trial?
Jurors are given lunch breaks and may be given other breaks during a trial. If it is absolutely necessary that you take a break for some reason at any other time during the trial, tell the bailiff or the judge. But note that these requests are highly unusual and should be made only if absolutely necessary.
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Deciding on a verdict
What happens after the closing arguments?
After the judge gives you your instructions and you hear the attorneys' closing arguments, you leave the courtroom and go to the jury room to begin your deliberations. "Deliberation" is the process the jury uses to reach its verdict. During deliberations, the jury will discuss evidence and review law and facts.
Will anyone be in the jury room besides the jury?
No. But if you have any questions or need any help, the bailiff will be nearby.
What's the first thing we do?
The first thing you should do is elect one member of the jury to preside over the deliberations, seeing that everyone has an opportunity to participate and that the discussions remain orderly. The person chosen to preside takes part in deliberations and votes on the verdict along with everyone else.
What if we don't understand the jury instructions?
You may take written copies of the jury instructions to the jury room with you. If you don't understand the instructions, you may ask the judge to explain them to you. It is usually best to put your questions in writing and ask the bailiff to give them to the judge, since the judge will discus the questions with the attorneys before answering them.
How should we conduct our deliberations?
Each juror may have a different opinion at the start of deliberations. To reach a decision, some jurors may have to change their opinion. You should keep an open mind; listen carefully to other people's opinions, and the reasons for their opinions. You should be prepared to tell the other jurors what you think and why you think it. Be fair and carefully consider what your fellow jurors are saying. Do not let yourself be intimidated into changing your opinion, and do not intimidate anyone else. Change your opinion only if you genuinely agree with what another juror is saying. After a full discussion of the issues, the jury should be able to reach a decision that each juror can agree to with a clear conscience.
Do we all have to agree?
Yes. Every juror must agree on the verdict. This is known as a unanimous verdict.
What should we do after we've reached our verdict?
The person chosen to preside will write down the jury's verdict on a form prepared by the judge, sign it, and notify the bailiff that a verdict has been reached. The bailiff will notify the judge, who will call everyone, including the jury, back to the courtroom. The clerk will ask for the jury's verdict and read it out loud.
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The list below defines some of the terms not defined elsewhere in this guide, as well as some terms you might hear at the court or during a trial.
action, case, cause, suit, lawsuit -- These terms all refer to a proceeding in a court of law.
acquit -- To find a defendant not guilty in a criminal trial.
affidavit -- A written or printed statement made under oath.
answer -- A formal response made by the defendant, which admits or denies what is claimed by the plaintiff.
burden of proof -- This term refers to which side is obligated to prove the facts of the case.
cause of action -- A legal claim.
charge -- A formal accusation that someone has committed a criminal offense.
counterclaim -- A claim presented by the defendant in a civil case alleging that the plaintiff owes damages to the defendant.
cross-examination -- An attorney's questioning of a witness called to testify by the other side in the case.
damages -- Compensation (usually monetary) awarded to someone who has suffered loss, detriment or injury to their person, property or rights.
deposition -- Sworn testimony taken and recorded outside the courtroom but according to the rules of the court.
evidence -- Any form of proof legally presented at a trial, including records, documents, photographs and testimony of witnesses.
exhibit -- A paper document or other physical object presented to the court as evidence during a trial.
hearsay -- Statements made out of court by someone other than the person testifying in court, which are offered to prove a matter in court.
impeachment of a witness -- An attempt to show that the testimony of a witness is not truthful, accurate or reliable.
inadmissable -- Material or information that cannot be admitted or received as evidence under established rules of evidence.
indictment -- A written accusation by a grand jury charging someone with committing a crime.
leading question -- A question that suggests to a witness the answer the attorney wants to hear.
litigant -- An individual who brings or defends a lawsuit.
motion -- A request made by an attorney for a ruling or an order by a judge on a particular issue.
perjury -- Lying under oath, which is a criminal offense.
plea -- Defendants' statements of "guilty" or "not guilty" to criminal charges made against them.
pleadings -- Formal, written allegations by both sides of their claims.
polling the jury -- Asking jurors individually after the verdict has been read whether they agree with the verdict.
rebuttal -- The introduction of contracting or opposing evidence.
search warrant -- A written order issued by a judge or magistrate, directing a law enforcement officer to search a specific location for specific things or individuals.
stipulation -- An agreement by the attorneys that certain facts are true. Facts that have been stipulated do not need to be proven in the trial.
testimony -- Any statement made by a witness under oath.
tort -- An injury or wrong committed to someone else's person or property for which an injured party is requesting damages.