Selecting and Instructing the Jury
In this series, we have looked more closely at the legal process during a personal injury lawsuit, from the filing of the original complaint through the gathering of evidence, from the pre-trial rulings on admissibility of evidence to the process for dismissing certain claims. In this last installment, we look at two of the key components of the trial—the selection of jurors, and how the jurors apply the facts to the law to render a verdict.
Voir Dire—The Selection of Jurors
Once all pre-trial motions have been heard and resolved, and the case is set for trial, the first task is to choose those individuals who will serve on the jury. The legal term for this is “voir dire.” Though the process can vary in minor details from court to court, the process typically goes like this:
- Individuals (usually registered voters or persons with drivers licenses) are notified by mail that they have been selected for potential jury duty, and are told to appear at the court on the day the trial starts
- In some courts, those individuals are asked to complete a questionnaire, which may be used for purposes of screening
- Groups of potential jurors are called into the courtroom, where they may be asked questions by attorneys for either party or by the judge
- Either side may challenge a potential juror for cause, should the juror indicate that he or she cannot be impartial. Most courts allow for an unlimited number of challenges for cause.
- Either side may exercise a certain number of “peremptory” challenges, where cause does not need to be stated
- The judge will rule on whether any challenges will be granted
Instructing the Jury about the Law
In the American legal system, the judge is the arbiter of law and the jury is the finder of fact. The principal task of the jury is to determine which version of the facts meets the burden of proof. However, once that determination has been made, the jury must apply the finding of fact to the law and render a decision.
Because the jury cannot be expected to know the rules of law, they must be guided, so that they can make the proper decision. If the trial goes to the jury, the judge will typically instruct attorneys for both parties to prepare proposed instructions of law. The judge may hear oral arguments regarding those instructions, and will have final authority over the precise language that goes to the jury.
Customarily, those instructions are provided to the jury in an “if-then” format—”If you find the facts to be X, you must apply the law as follows and must make the following ruling.”
Contact the Cintron Firm
At the Cintron Firm, LLC, we offer more than 14 years of experience to people in New Jersey facing a broad array of legal challenges. Attorney Mark Cintron has worked as a prosecutor and has extensive courtroom experience, so he’s always ready, willing and able to protect your interests before a judge or jury. Contact our office online or call us at 201-791-1333 or 917-494-5695 to set up an appointment.