(Notes: The pronouns, he, him, his, refer to both the male and female gender. The information on this website is not intended to take the place of the instructions given by the judge in any case. Should you see a conflict, the trial judge's instructions will prevail.)
|Jury Selection||Judge's Conference|
|The Day of the Trial||Juror Conduct|
|Kinds of Cases||Conduct in Jury Room|
|Trial Procedure||Considering Evidence|
|Time Spent Waiting||Questions and Answers|
|What is Evidence|
Trial by jury is a cornerstone of our justice system. This is one of the most important rights that Americans enjoy, and is guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The right to a trial has survived through the centuries as a vigorous and necessary force in the lives of free men and women. To insure the continuation of that right, you have been called, or may be called, to perform your civic duty as a juror. Jury service is an honor and a responsibility which should be accepted with pride. For a short time, you will now, as a juror, serve as an officer of the court, directly alongside the lawyers and the judge. The decisions of juries affect property rights, life, and the liberty of those, whose cases come before the court. As a juror, you are a part of the judicial system of our state.
This section of the website is designed to give you an understanding of the events you will be seeing, the language you will be hearing, and the role you will be assuming as a juror. It will also answer many of the questions you may have about jury duty--from where to appear to what will be expected of you if you are chosen to serve. The proper and efficient functioning of the jury system requires each juror to apply intelligence, integrity, sound judgment, and complete impartiality in the performance of their duty.
Requests for excusal from or postponement of jury duty should be submitted as soon as you realize there may be a conflict. An individual may be excused if the judge finds that either the state of the juror's health or the juror's family reasonably requires his/her absence; or when, in the opinion of the judge, the juror's interests or those of the public will be materially injured by the juror's attendance. The law does not allow excusal because of occupation or employment. A request for excusal must state the nature of your conflict or the hardship. You must appear in person in the courtroom unless the court has excused you.
In each case in which you serve as a juror, the judge will give you instructions as to the law applicable to the case. It is the judge's duty to instruct you correctly as to the law in each case. It is your duty to base your verdict upon the evidence as you hear it in court, and upon the law as contained in the instructions of the judge.
You, as an individual, were chosen through a random selection process of persons whose names appear on the current voter registration list or a combination of voter registration and drivers license listings. The judge may schedule an orientation to acquaint you with the system and to randomly assign you to a particular service group.
When a jury trial is essential, the court is required to notify a specific number of jurors. The court uses your selected service group, often referred to as a jury panel, to schedule your appearance in court at a designated time and place for the trial. Circuit judges are responsible for making certain that the final selection of jurors is performed in an impartial manner, so judges prefer enough potential jurors are available for selection depending on the type of case. Capital murder trials require more potential jurors than other case types.
THE CIRCUIT JUDGE'S INTRODUCTION:
The circuit judge is an elected official. The judge will give you a brief introduction, and will outline what the potential jurors should expect during the course of the day.
The clerk records those present. The judge will ask the Sheriff's Office to locate those individuals who were expected, but were not in attendance, and the court applies proper sanctions to those who ignored the summons to court.
RANDOM SEATING AND VOIR DIRE:
The trial judge usually directs a few questions to all of the potential jurors at the same time, asking if any of them has any acquaintance with any of the people involved in the lawsuit, any knowledge of the lawsuit, or other information that would be of apparent interest to both sides.
The Circuit Clerk has assigned numbers which correspond to the individual jurors present. The clerk then draws random numbers. The attorneys may identify themselves and the parties to the lawsuit, explain the type of case to be tried, and the anticipated length of the trial.
The potential jurors will be questioned as to their background and general feelings and opinions, if any, about the case. Then the plaintiff's lawyer and the defendant's lawyer take turns questioning each prospective juror separately to determine whether or not the individual jurors are qualified to act impartially. This process is called voir dire. It refers to the procedure of selecting those individuals who are best qualified to decide the factual issues of a particular case in an honest and unbiased manner. The voir dire process is not conducted out of curiosity; these questions are the only way for the lawyers and the trial judge to find out about each particular juror. It is very important that all jurors frankly answer the questions to the best of their ability. Any potential juror may be prohibited from making an honest and fair decision about the case because he or she is related to the persons, attorneys or parties, in the case or has already made up his or her mind about how the case should be decided or has been represented by one of the attorneys. If a juror is excused for one of these reasons, it is done by an attorney requesting a "challenge for cause." This request may be granted or refused by the trial court.
An attorney may also ask that certain jurors be excused from serving without giving any reason. This is called "peremptory challenge" and is made on the basis of an attorney's desire. In a civil case, each party has three peremptory challenges. In a criminal case, the prosecutor, representing the State of Arkansas, is allowed between three and ten peremptory challenges, and a defendant is allowed from three to thirteen peremptory challenges depending upon the type of crime charged.
Potential jurors who are excused either for cause or by a peremptory challenge should not feel slighted or in any way be offended.
There are many different reasons for a lawyer to challenge a juror. They excuse those individuals with certain general beliefs and feelings, they deem as detrimentally biased. The attorney is merely using a legal entitlement to a fair trial given to all attorneys by law.
Through the selection procedure, twelve (12) persons will be seated in the jury box to decide the case. In some cases, alternate jurors may be picked in the event that one of the twelve is unable to continue serving. The twelve selected and any alternates will take an oath or affirmation promising to perform their duties as jurors.
The oath administered is that the jurors:
"Will well and truly try the matter in issue between the plaintiff and defendant, and a true verdict give according to the law and evidence as given on the trial."
When members of the jury take this oath, they become judges of every question of fact in the case and are a part of the legal machinery for determining the truth or falsity of claims that are made by the respective parties. They are duty bound to act fairly and impartially, and are no longer free to act upon their feelings or emotions, but only on reason and judgment and under the instructions of the judge.
Remember, your task as a juror is to determine the correct facts of each dispute between the parties. Any errors of law which the trial judge makes can be corrected by higher courts, but your decision on the facts usually will not be changed. Therefore, your service as a jury member is of extreme importance. As long as you perform this duty to the best of your ability and make an honest, careful, and deliberate decision, the American system of justice will be served.
After all of the jurors are seated in the box, the trial will begin. Whether it is a civil or criminal case, your duties are the same. However, in a criminal case the jury fixes a sentence and in a civil case the jury assesses the amount of money, if any, to be paid to the winning party.
Arkansas juries decide two kinds of cases - civil and criminal. In most civil and criminal cases, the written documents setting forth the claims of the respective parties are called the pleadings.
A civil case usually involves a claim for money damages or some kind of claim with respect to property. The person who commences a civil lawsuit is called the plaintiff and the person against whom the suit is brought is the defendant. There may be more than one plaintiff or defendant.
The plaintiff will file with the court a written complaint stating the basis for his or her complaint against the defendant and requesting money to compensate for his damages. The defendant will respond with an answer stating why he believes he is not responsible for the damages or why he should not be required to pay money which the plaintiff claims is due. The defendant's answer may also contain a counterclaim. A counterclaim is a complaint the defendant files against the plaintiff concerning the same situation. These papers are called pleadings, and jurors should understand they are not evidence, merely the written opinion or claim stated in the course of an argument between the parties.
If it is believed that a state law has been broken, the people of the state, acting through the prosecuting attorney, file a complaint or criminal information against the person accused of breaking the law. A criminal case is brought in the name of and by the State of Arkansas against a person charged with breaking the law. The fact that the prosecuting attorney has filed information is not to be taken as an indication that the accused person is, or might be, guilty. The plaintiff in a criminal case is always The State of Arkansas. The state is represented by the prosecuting attorney or a deputy of the district office. The person accused of breaking the law is the defendant. Crime victims are part of the case, as witnesses, and they are never considered the plaintiff. An indictment or information is the pleading that sets out the charge.
One major difference between civil cases and criminal cases is that in civil cases, only nine (9) of the twelve (12) jurors must reach the same decision, whereas in criminal cases the decision must be unanimous.
After the jury has been picked and sworn, the trial proceedings advance in stages. Each trial, civil or criminal, has distinct parts that usually follow the same order.
The initial part is the opening statements by the attorneys. The plaintiff's attorney gives the first opening statement, followed by the defendant's attorney. These statements are meant to simply outline the facts of the case and tell the jury what each side intends to prove or disprove by his evidence. These opening statements are not to be considered as evidence. They give the jury a general idea of what the case is about.
The second part of the trial is the presentation of the evidence. Again, the plaintiff goes first and calls witnesses to testify under oath. This process is called direct examination. After the plaintiff's attorney questions the witness, the defendant's attorney asks questions on cross-examination. After the cross-examination has been concluded, the plaintiff's lawyer may again ask questions. This is called redirect examination. If the witnesses have any documents, photographs or other physical objects that help to prove the facts of the case, they may be introduced into evidence and shown to the jury. In some cases, a witness may be unavailable and may have answered questions in a deposition prior to the actual trial. These questions and answers may be read to the jury as evidence to be considered. The procedure of direct examination and cross-examination will continue with each witness until the plaintiff finishes presenting his proof and rests his case.
The defendant's lawyer goes through the same process - presenting evidence by questioning witnesses and introducing any physical objects. This time the defense conducts the direct examination, and the plaintiff conducts the cross-examination. The defendant will also rest his case when he has finished presenting his case.
The next stage is called rebuttal. The plaintiff may then present more evidence as to disprove any new evidence brought out by the defendant and not covered by the plaintiff's witnesses.
When the plaintiff and defendant have both rested, the instruction phase of the trial begins. The jurors will be instructed by the trial judge on the questions to be decided by them as a group, and on the law to be applied, in reaching a decision. After these instructions, the attorneys for each side present their closing arguments to the members of the jury. The purpose of this part of the trial is to present the jury with each party's interpretation of the evidence and how the law should govern the jury's decision. As is true with the opening arguments, the plaintiff's attorney goes first. The defendant's attorney then makes his argument and the plaintiff is allowed a rebuttal argument. Again, the closing presentations are not evidence and must not be considered as such.
The jury then usually leaves the courtroom and goes into the jury room to consider its verdict away from the parties to the case. Its first act in the jury room is to elect a jury foreman to preside over the deliberations.
The final decision of the jury is called the verdict. The jury's verdict must reflect a decision based upon the evidence and an application of the law as explained by the judge. The fairness of the verdict is obviously of the greatest importance to the parties. In deciding the verdict, each juror should enter in the discussion with an open mind and should freely state his or her viewpoint. A juror should not be hesitant about changing his or her mind when convinced, after a fair discussion, that another opinion or viewpoint is better.
When a jury has reached its verdict, it should be recorded by the foreman. He or she will record the verdict on the form supplied by the court. The bailiff is summoned and the jurors return to the jury box. The trial judge will ask if a verdict has been reached. The foreman answers "yes" and the verdict is read out loud. The clerk then records the verdict. Sometimes one of the parties will request that the judge poll the jury. This means that the court clerk asks each juror individually if the verdict is in fact his or her verdict. The judge then enters the verdict in an order and the jury is dismissed.
Much of the juror's time is spent waiting to try a case or waiting while the judge and the lawyers are taking up legal matters outside the hearing of the jury, rather than in actually hearing evidence or arguments in a trial. This may seem to be a waste of time. Actually it is not, since the consideration of such legal matters is a necessary part of orderly trial procedure and a fair determination of the rights of the persons involved.
Insofar as the jury is concerned, the evidence is what the judge permits the jury to hear and consider.
Evidence may take the form of physical exhibits, such as photographs, bullets, or a scarred face. Answers to questions asked by the lawyers or by the judge are evidence, as is the sworn testimony in written form of a witness who cannot appear personally in court.
There are, however, many things that must not be considered as evidence. For instance, what a lawyer says or claims to have proven is not evidence. Nor is testimony that the jury has heard but that the judge has ordered stricken from the record. The jury must treat all such testimony as though it had never been given. Similarly, matters that a lawyer offers to prove, but that the judge will not allow to be presented, are not to be considered as evidence.
A juror is not to consider any information about the witnesses, parties, or lawyers or anything connected with the case other than the evidence seen and heard in the courtroom. If the case involves a thing or a place, such as the location of a stop sign at an intersection or a flight of masonry steps, a juror must not make an inspection of the site unless the judge sends the jury as a group for that specific purpose.
This enables you to hear and see only the things that you legally are allowed to consider in reaching your verdict. The lawyers are not being stubborn and the judge is not acting arbitrarily; each is merely applying the rules of evidence as he or she understands them. Do not be swayed by the actions or arguments of the attorneys or the rulings on evidence by the judge. Your job is to decide if the evidence which is admitted is believable and how much weight to give it.
Generally, the following are admissible and may be considered by you in reaching your verdict:
The following are NOT evidence and may not be considered by you in reaching your verdict:
During the course of a trial, the lawyers for both sides may make objections to questions asked, or evidence offered, by the other side. This is part of the lawyer's job. A trial is carried on within set rules of procedure, and a lawyer is entitled to object to questions believed to be improper. For example, an attorney may ask a question of a witness in such manner as to suggest a certain answer. This is called a leading question. Such a question is not proper on direct examination, but is perfectly proper when the opposing lawyer cross-examines the same witness.
If the judge considers the question improper or the evidence inadmissible, the judge will "sustain" the objection. Sustain is a term that is subject to different definitions, but in the context of trial practice, it refers to a judge agreeing that an attorney's objection is valid. It usually occurs in the situation where an attorney asks a witness a question, and the opposing lawyer objects, saying the question is "irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent," "leading," "argumentative," or some other objection. When the judge sustains the objection, the question cannot be asked or answered. However, if the judge finds the question proper, he/she will "overrule" the objection. The judge's ruling does not indicate favor of one side or one lawyer over the other, and the jury should not draw any such inference from the ruling. Even though the judge decides every objection in favor of one side, it does not mean that side is entitled to win the case.
These rulings simply reflect the judge's informed belief as to whether the questions asked are in proper form, or deal with the issues before the jury.
Occasionally the lawyers may confer with the judge out of the hearing of the jury. The judge may excuse the jury from the room, so that a point of law or an objection can be argued. In either case, the jury should not feel slighted or attempt to guess what is being said. You should not feel resentment toward the attorney who requests that the jury be excused. Conferences are often held at the bench to avoid the inconvenience of having the jury members file out of the courtroom and in again.
Conferences may also be held to prevent the jury from becoming confused on technical legal matters. If the jury is excused from the room, it is usually to avoid having the jury hear arguments on questions of law which concern only the lawyers and the judge.
All jury members are required to be prompt. Since each juror must hear all the evidence, tardiness will cause a delay and inconvenience to the judge, the lawyers, the parties, the witnesses, and the other jurors. Please be on time!
When a court session begins and the judge enters the courtroom, everyone in the courtroom rises.
Every juror must make sure that prior to the time a verdict is reached in the jury room, they do not participate in any activity which might tend to influence themselves, or another juror, in favor of one party or the other. They should not research evidence on the Internet or visit any geographic area mentioned in the proceedings.
While the trial is in progress and during any recesses, jurors must be very careful not to talk about the case with each other or with another person or allow anyone to discuss the case in their presence. Jurors should neither mingle with the lawyers or witnesses for either side nor accept any favor from them, such as a soft drink or a ride home. If a juror is approached by anyone about the progress or outcome of the case, he or she should report this communication promptly and privately to the trial judge or the bailiff.
If you have any questions while the trial is ongoing, do not hesitate to ask the judge. This includes any bit of evidence that you may fail to hear or see. Remember that you will base your verdict on only the evidence you hear or see in court.
Careful attention should be given to every question and answer. If a juror cannot hear a witness, lawyer, or the judge, he should notify the judge.
A juror must sit in the same seat in the jury box throughout the trial. This enables the judge, the clerk, and the lawyers to identify him more easily.
While you are a juror and before you retire to deliberate in the jury room, you should not talk to anyone about the case, not even another juror, nor should you permit anyone to talk to you about it. During the trial, a juror should not communicate with any lawyer, party or witness in the case. A friendly talk, even though not about the trial, must be avoided. You should not listen to radio or television accounts of the trial or read articles about it in the newspapers. If any person persists in talking to you about the trial, or attempts to influence you as a juror, you should report that fact to the judge immediately.
Only in rare cases are members of the jury kept away from their homes continuously during a trial. A juror can leave to have lunch and to go home at night, but he cannot discuss the case with anyone, even with a member of his family. If someone tries to talk to him about the case, the juror must prevent it.
In deciding a case, jurors are expected to bring to bear all the experience, common sense and common knowledge they possess, but they are not to rely on any private source of information. It follows that a juror should never make an independent investigation or inspect the scene of an accident or other event involved in the case. The judge will order the jury to inspect a place involved in the case if it is proper. If a juror learns of something that the judge should know about, the juror may ask to see him. He should send a message to the judge by the officer in charge of the jury or by the clerk of the court.
In addition to the judge, you will notice other personnel serving in connection with the court. The court reporter makes a verbatim record of everything said, which can be transcribed later if necessary. The bailiff enforces order in the courtroom and cares for the needs of the jury. The clerk of the court keeps the records, books, and papers of all actions and of the business of the court.
Upon retiring to the jury room to deliberate, the jury selects a foreperson.
It is the foreperson's duty to act as the presiding officer, to see that the jury's deliberations are conducted in an orderly fashion, and to see that the issues submitted for the jury's consideration are fully and fairly discussed, and that every juror has a chance to say what he or she thinks upon every question. The foreperson should see that secret balloting is preformed. The foreperson should sign any written request made of the judge.
A good foreperson can keep the discussion in proper bounds, saving time and securing efficient results.
Every juror should listen carefully to the views of the other members of the jury and consider them with an open mind. The final vote should, however, represent a person's own opinion. As a result of the discussion with fellow jurors, opinions may change from that which was first held. A juror should not hesitate to change his mind, if he decides that his first opinion was not correct, but one who has an opinion should not change it unless his reason and judgment are changed. When differences of opinion arise between jurors, each juror should say what he thinks and why he thinks it.
A juror must not try to force another juror to agree, nor must he refuse to listen to the argument and opinions of others. A juror must never shirk his responsibility and must never permit any decision to be reached by chance or the toss of a coin. A juror must be courageous and must honor this responsibility. A juror should listen objectively to the comments of the other jurors, remain calm during the deliberations and tell other jurors what he believes and why his beliefs were formed.
Each juror shall discard all prejudices and sympathies. Each must follow the instructions of the court and render a verdict in accordance with their best judgment. A juror may not approve of or agree with the law which the judge states in his charge, but his or her feelings in that respect should have no effect on his or her decision as a juror. The jury is not deciding the law. The jury is solely deciding the facts. The verdict must be based only on the evidence and on the judge's instructions as to the law; it must never be based on what the juror thinks the law ought to be.
Your duty as a juror is to listen to the judge, witnesses, and lawyers and listen well; to deliberate, and deliberate calmly and fairly; and to decide, and decide intelligently and justly. All that you need to know to do this will be disclosed to you during the trial. Keep in mind at all times the oath you have taken, and remember that you are discharging a vital duty to your country and to your fellow citizens.
In a civil case, nine or more of the jurors must agree upon a verdict. In a criminal case, a verdict of guilty or not guilty must be unanimous.
You are not required to discard your common sense when considering evidence. There are a few things, however, that you may wish to keep in mind while you are listening to the evidence. For example, some witnesses may have an interest in how the case comes out and others may be impartial. Some may seem to forget when it is in their interest to do so and only remember what is favorable. Others may seem to be honest but confused or simply mistaken about what they saw, heard, smelled, or felt. Still other witnesses may appear to be accurate and sincere in their testimony.
Remember, witnesses often differ on events, especially when a detail happened quickly or when it involved emotions. The cross-examination of witnesses will help you consider the evidence. It may point out weaknesses, uncertainties, improbabilities, or contradictions in testimony that might have sounded convincing at first.
There may be questions about jury duty that have not been specifically covered in other parts of this document. It is hoped that answers to such questions can be found in this section.
Who may be called to serve as a juror?
You may be called to serve if you are at least eighteen (18) years old, a United States citizen, a resident of Arkansas and the county from which you are summoned, consider yourself of sound mind and good moral character, have the ability to read and write in English, and have not been convicted of a felony.
For what length of time may my name be on a prospective jurors' list?
Your name will remain on the jury list no longer than six months, and you may be called any time during that period unless you are told otherwise by the judge. You will not be called to serve more than 24 days during the four months.
When I am summoned as a juror, what am I supposed to do?
The date and time you are to appear at the courthouse should be written on your summons. If a written summons is not used, you will be notified by a proper official, through your local newspaper, or through the local radio station. If you do not understand the notification instructions, you should call your local circuit clerk for clarification.
What should I do if being a juror at that time would be very inconvenient for me?
Those persons for whom jury service would be an extreme personal hardship may be excused. If you have a serious problem, write or visit the local circuit clerk's office at once. He or she will tell you how to apply for an excuse from jury duty. Only a Circuit Judge can excuse you from jury duty.
Will I get paid for juror duty?
Yes. Upon being summoned to the courthouse and answering the roll you are entitled to receive an attendance fee even if you are not selected to serve on the jury. If you are seated you will receive an amount of at least $50 for each day of service. The exact amount of payment is determined in part by the quorum court of the county.
What do I do about overtime parking tickets received while I'm in the courthouse on jury duty?
Any overtime parking ticket you receive while in the courthouse in response to a summons for jury duty should be given to the judge or clerk. The law does not require you to pay for these tickets when you are serving as a juror.
What if my boss won't let me off for jury duty?
An employer must excuse you from work. If there is any problem, contact the judge.
What should I do if I am late and cannot get to the courthouse in time for jury duty?
If you are on a jury and are not on time, the trial cannot start, and everyone must wait. Each juror must hear all the evidence in order to reach a decision. So, if something delays you unavoidably, telephone the judge's office or the clerk's office as soon as possible. If you do not have a reasonable excuse for arriving late, the judge can impose a fine.
What should I wear to court?
There are no set rules about dress in court. Business casual is a good dress directive. You should also be comfortable. Please avoid extremes--you aren't going to a fish fry or a cocktail party. Shorts, halter tops, t-shirts, muscle shirts and dress of a similar nature are not permitted.
May I take notes during the trial?
Generally speaking, you may take notes during the trial. However, you should ask the trial judge first to make sure that the particular judge trying the case does not prohibit the taking of notes.
May I ask questions during the trial?
If you are unable to hear or see the presentation of evidence, raise your hand to attract the attention of the judge and inform him of your problem.
You are not allowed to ask questions of witnesses.
Can I investigate some part of the case that isn't brought out by the attorney on my own time?
No. You must base your verdict only upon the evidence that is presented and admitted in court. You should never independently visit a place mentioned in the case or attempt to investigate any aspect of it.
Am I required to speak to the attorneys after the case is concluded?
No. After a verdict is rendered, you are not required to speak with any of the attorneys, parties, or witnesses. However, you are not prohibited from doing so. You may also speak with the judge or the clerk if you feel there is a need.
May I bring a cell phone to court?
You may bring a cell phone to the courtroom; however, it must be turned off. You may ask the judge for special consideration of this rule if special circumstances exist, such as a family member's medical needs require you to remain in close contact. You must give such information to the judge and/or the clerk prior to the beginning of the trial.
You may not take a cell phone into the jury room during deliberations.