Purpose of This Handbook
The purpose of this handbook is to acquaint trial jurors with the general nature
and importance of their role as jurors. It explains some of the language and procedures
used in court, and it offers some suggestions helpful to jurors in performing this
important public service.
Nothing in this handbook is to be regarded by jurors as instructions of law to be
applied by them in any case in which they serve. The judge will instruct the jury
in each separate case as to the law of that case. For example, in each criminal
case, the judge will tell the jury, among other things, that a defendant charged
with a crime is presumed to be innocent and the burden of proving his guilt beyond
a reasonable doubt is upon the Government. Jurors must follow only the instructions
of law given to them by the trial judge in each particular case.
Importance of Jury Service
Jurors perform a vital role in the American system of justice. The protection of
our rights and liberties is largely achieved through the teamwork of judge and jury
who, working together in a common effort, put into practice the principles of our
great heritage of freedom. The judge determines the law to be applied in the case
while the jury decides the facts. Thus, in a very important way, jurors become a
part of the court itself.
Jurors must be men and women of sound judgment, absolute honesty, and a complete
sense of fairness. Jury service is a high duty of citizenship. Jurors aid in the
maintenance of law and order and uphold justice among their fellow citizens. Their
greatest reward is the knowledge that they have discharged this duty faithfully,
honorably, and well. In addition to determining and adjusting property rights, jurors
may also be asked to decide questions involving a crime for which a person may be
fined, placed on probation, or confined in prison. In a very real sense, therefore,
the people must rely on jurors for the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit
In this country, there are two systems of courts. They are the courts of the individual
50 states and the District of Columbia and the courts of the Federal Government.
This book is written for jurors selected to serve in the trial court of the Federal
Government, the United States District Court. The types of cases that can be brought
in this court have been fixed by the United States Congress according to our Federal
Cases in the United States District Courts are divided into two general classes.
These are called criminal cases and civil cases.
Criminal cases are those in which individuals or organizations are charged with
breaking the criminal laws. Typical criminal charges in a federal court are those
involving violation of the federal income tax and narcotics laws, mail theft, and
Civil cases are suits in which persons who disagree over their rights and duties
come into court to settle the matter. A typical example of a civil case is one involving
a broken contract. One party may claim that it should be paid under the terms of
the contract, while the other side may assert a defense to the claim, such as the
lack of a binding contract. The court is asked to decide who is right. This depends
on the law as laid down by the judge and the facts as decided by the jury.
The Criminal Case
The person charged with a violation of the law is the defendant. The charge against
the defendant may be brought in two ways. One way is by means of an indictment;
the other is by an information.
An indictment is a written accusation by a grand jury that charges the defendant
with committing an offense against the law. Each offense charged will usually be
set forth in a separate count of the indictment.
An information is the name given to a written charge against the defendant filed
by the United States Attorney and not by the grand jury. But even in cases where
the defendant has the right to have a grand jury consider the charges presented,
the defendant may agree to give up this right and consent to the filing of an information.
After the indictment or information is filed, the defendant appears in open court
where the court advises the defendant of the charge and asks whether the defendant
pleads “guilty” or “not guilty.” This procedure is called the arraignment.
No trial is needed if the defendant pleads guilty and admits to committing the crime.
But if the defendant pleads not guilty, he or she will then be placed on trial.
The judge in a criminal case tells the jury what the law is. The jury must determine
what the true facts are. On that basis, the jury has only to determine whether the
defendant is guilty or not guilty of each offense charged. The subsequent sentencing
is the sole responsibility of the judge. In other words, in arriving at an impartial
verdict as to guilt or innocence of a jury defendant, the jury is not to consider
The jury must consider separately each of the charges against the defendant, after
which it may find the person: not guilty of any of the charges, guilty of all the
charges, or guilty of some of the charges and not guilty of others.
The Civil Case
The following is an example of the kind of civil case jurors in a United States
District Court will help decide.
Let us call the case John Smith v. XY Company. This means that John Smith
has filed a case against the XY Company.
John Smith is called the plaintiff, the person who begins the case. The XY Company
is the defendant. The plaintiff and the defendant are the parties.
The plaintiff, John Smith, states his claim in a paper called the complaint. The
defendant, XY Company, replies to the complaint in a paper called the answer. The
complaint and the answer are the main pleadings in the case. The points in the pleadings
about which the parties disagree make up the issues of fact and law. Sometimes these
issues are set forth in a pretrial order. This is an order drawn up by the judge
after consulting with the attorneys for the parties.
The Voir Dire Examination
To begin a jury trial, a panel of prospective jurors is called into the courtroom.
This panel will include a number of persons from whom a jury will be selected to
try the case. In criminal trials, alternate jurors may be chosen to take the place
of jurors who become ill during the trial.
The panel members are sworn to answer questions about their qualifications to sit
as jurors in the case. This questioning process is called the voir dire. This is
an examination conducted by the judge and sometimes includes participation by counsel.
A deliberately untruthful answer to any fair question could result in serious punishment
to the person making it.
The voir dire examination opens with a short statement about the case. The purpose
is to inform the jurors what the case is about and to identify the parties and their
Questions are then asked to find out whether any individuals on the panel have any
personal interest in the case or know of any reason why they cannot render an impartial
verdict. The court also wants to know whether any member of the panel is related
to or personally acquainted with the parties, their lawyers, or the witnesses who
will appear during trial. Other questions will determine whether any panel members
have a prejudice or a feeling that might influence them in rendering a verdict.
Any juror having knowledge of the case should explain this to the judge.
Parties on either side may ask that a member of the panel be excused or exempted
from service on a particular jury. These requests, or demands, are called challenges.
A person may be challenged for cause if the examination shows he or she might be
prejudiced. The judge will excuse an individual from the panel if the cause raised
in the challenge is sufficient. There is no limit to the number of challenges for
cause, which either party may make.
The parties also have a right to a certain number of challenges for which no cause
is necessary. These are called peremptory challenges. Each side usually has a predetermined
number of peremptory challenges. The peremptory challenge is a legal right long
recognized by law as a means of giving both sides some choice in the make- up of
a jury. Jurors should clearly understand that being eliminated from the jury panel
by a peremptory challenge is no reflection upon their ability or integrity.
In some courts, the peremptory challenges are made openly in the hearing of the
jury. In others, they are made from the jury list out of the jury’s sight.
The Jurors’ Solemn Oath
After the voir dire is completed, the jurors selected to try the case will be sworn
in. The judge or the clerk will state to the jury:
“Members of the Jury, you will rise, hold up your right hands, and be sworn to try
The jurors then rise and hold up their right hands. The jurors face the judge or
the clerk who is to administer the oath. That official slowly, solemnly, and clearly
repeats the oath. The jurors indicate by their responses and upraised hands that
they take this solemn oath.
Jurors not wishing to take an oath may request to affirm instead of swear. In some
districts the jury is sworn upon the Bible and not by uplifted hand.
The Eight Stages of Trial
The trial proceeds when the jury has been sworn. There are usually eight stages
of trial in civil cases. They are:
- The lawyers present opening statements. Sometimes the opening statements on behalf
of one or more parties are omitted.
- The plaintiff calls witnesses and produces evidence to prove its case.
- The defendant may call witnesses and produce evidence to disprove the plaintiffs’
case and to prove the defendant’s claims.
- The plaintiff may call rebuttal witnesses to disprove what was said by the defendant’s
- Closing arguments are made by the lawyer on each side.
- The judge instructs or charges the jury as to the law.
- The jury retires to deliberate.
- The jury reaches its verdict.
During the trial, witnesses called by either side may be cross-examined by the lawyers
on the other side.
Throughout the trial, the judge may be asked in the presence of the jury to decide
questions of law. Usually these questions concern objections to testimony that either
side wants to present. Occasionally, the judge may ask jurors to leave the courtroom
briefly while the lawyers present their legal arguments for and against such objections.
The law requires that the judge decide such questions.
A ruling by the judge does not indicate that the judge is taking sides. He or she
is merely saying, in effect, that the law does, or else does not, permit that question
to be asked.
It is possible that the judge may decide every objection favorably to the plaintiff
or the defendant. That does not mean the case should be decided by the jury for
the plaintiff or the defendant. Even where judge decides every objection favorably
to the plaintiff or the defendant, the jury should maintain its objectivity and
base its verdict strictly upon the testimony and exhibits received in evidence at
The juror takes an oath to decide the case “upon the law and the evidence.” The
law is what the presiding judge declares the law to be; not what a juror believes
it to be or what a juror may have heard it to be from any source other than the
presiding judge. The evidence that jurors consider consists of the testimony of
witnesses and the exhibits admitted in evidence. What evidence is proper for the
jury to consider is based upon the law of evidence.
The Arguments of Counsel
After presentation of the evidence is completed, the lawyers have the opportunity
to discuss the evidence in their closing arguments. This helps the jurors recall
testimony that might have slipped their memory.
The chief purpose of the argument is to present the evidence in logical and comprehensible
order. The lawyers fit the different parts of the testimony together and connect
up the facts.
Each attorney presents the view of the case that is most favorable to his or her
own client. Each lawyer’s side appears to be right to that lawyer. Each lawyer’s
statement may be balanced by the statement of the lawyers on the other side.
The Charge to the Jury
The charge of a judge to a jury in a United States District Court frequently is
much more than a statement of the rules of law. Sometimes it may contain a summary
of the facts or some of the facts.
It is the jury’s duty to reach its own conclusion based on the evidence. The verdict
is reached without regard to what may be the opinion of the judge as to the facts,
though as to the law the judge’s charge controls.
The judge may point out and may also explain basic facts in dispute, and facts that
do not actually matter in the case. In other words, the judge may try to direct
the jury’s attention to the real merits of the case and impartially summarize the
evidence bearing on the questions of fact. The judge will state the law related
to the facts presented to the jury.
The Jury’s Verdict
In both civil and criminal cases, it is the jury’s duty to decide the facts in accordance
with the principles of law laid down in the judge’s charge to the jury. The decision
is made on the evidence introduced, and the jury’s decision on the facts is usually
A court session begins when the court official raps for order. Everyone in the court
rises. The judge takes his or her place on the bench, and the court official announces
the opening of court. A similar procedure is used when court adjourns.
Common courtesy and politeness are safe guides as to the way jurors should act.
Of course, no juror will be permitted to read a newspaper or magazine in the courtroom.
Nor should a juror carry on a conversation with another juror in the courtroom during
Jurors will be treated with consideration for their comfort and convenience. They
should bring to the attention of the judge any matter affecting their service and
should notify the court of any emergencies. In the event of a personal emergency,
a juror may send word to the judge through any court personnel, or may ask to see
the judge privately.
Conduct of the Jury during the Trial
Jurors should give close attention to the testimony. They are sworn to disregard
their prejudices and follow the court’s instructions. They must render a verdict
according to their best judgment.
Each juror should keep an open mind. Human experience shows that once persons come
to a preliminary conclusion as to a set of facts, they hesitate to change their
views. Therefore, it is wise for jurors not to even attempt to make up their mind
on the facts of a case until all the evidence has been presented to them, and they
have been instructed on the law applicable to the case. Similarly, jurors should
not discuss the case even among themselves until it is concluded.
During the trial, the jury may hear references to the rules of evidence. Some of
these rules may appear strange to a person who is not a lawyer. However, each rule
has a purpose. The rules have evolved from hundreds of years of experience in the
trial of cases.
The mere fact that a lawsuit was begun is not evidence in a case. The opening and
closing statements of the lawyers are not evidence. A juror should disregard any
statements made by a lawyer in argument that have not been proved by the evidence.
A juror should also disregard any statement by a lawyer as to the law of the case
if it is not in accord with the judge’s instructions.
Jurors are expected to use all the experience, common sense, and common knowledge
they possess. But they are not to rely on any private source of information. Thus,
they should be careful during the trial not to discuss the case at home or elsewhere.
Information that a juror gets from a private source may be only half true, or biased
or inaccurate. It may be irrelevant to the case at hand. At any rate, it is only
fair that the parties have a chance to know and comment on all the facts that matter
in the case.
If during the trial a juror learns elsewhere of some fact about the case, he or
she should inform the court. The juror should not mention any such matter in the
Individual jurors should never inspect (either in person or via Internet websites)
the scene of an accident or of any event in the case. If an inspection is necessary,
the judge will have the jurors go as a group to the scene.
Jurors must not talk about the case with others not on the jury, even their spouses
or families, including via electronic communications and social networking on computers,
netbooks, tablets, and smart phones. Jurors must not read about the case in the
newspapers or on the Internet. They should avoid radio, television, and Internet
broadcasts that might mention the case. Jurors should not conduct any outside research,
including but not limited to, consulting dictionaries or reference materials, whether
in paper form or on the Internet. Jurors may not use any of the following to obtain
information about the case, about case processes or legal terms, or to conduct any
research about the case: any electronic device or media, such as a telephone, cell
phone, smart phone, or computer; the Internet, any Internet service, or any text
or instant messaging service, RSS feed, or other automatic alert that may transmit
information regarding the case to the juror; or any Internet chat room, blog, or
website, to communicate to anyone information about the case. The Sixth Amendment’s
guarantee of a trial by an impartial jury requires that a jury’s verdict must be
based on nothing else but the evidence and law presented to them in court. The words
of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes from over a century ago apply with
equal force to jurors serving in this advanced technological age: “The theory of
our system is that the conclusions to be reached in a case will be induced only
by evidence and argument in open court, and not by any outside influence, whether
of private talk or public print.”
Breaking these rules is likely to confuse a juror. It may be hard to separate in
one’s mind the court testimony and reports coming from other sources.
Jurors should not loiter in the corridors or vestibules of the courthouse. Embarrassing
and/or improper contacts may occur there with persons interested in the case. If
juror identification badges are provided, they should be worn in the courthouse
at all times.
If any outsider attempts to talk with a juror about a case in which he or she is
sitting, the juror should do the following:
- Tell the person it is improper for a juror to discuss the case or receive any information
except in the courtroom.
- Refuse to listen if the outsider persists.
- Report the incident at once to the judge.
Jurors have the duty to report to the judge any improper behavior by any juror.
They also have the duty to inform the judge of any outside communication or improper
conduct directed at the jury by any person.
Jurors on a case should refrain from talking on any subject—even if it is not related
to the matter being tried—with any lawyer, witness, or party in the case. Such contact
may make a new trial necessary, at significant additional expense to the parties,
the court, and ultimately, taxpayers.
Some cases may arouse much public discussion. In that event, the jury may be kept
together until the verdict is reached. This procedure is used to protect the jurors
against outside influences.
In the Jury Room
In some districts, the judge selects the foreperson of the jury. In other districts,
the jurors elect their foreperson, and in still other districts, the first juror
to enter the jury box becomes the foreperson automatically. The judge will inform
jurors which method is used in the district.
The foreperson presides over the jury’s deliberations and must give every juror
a fair opportunity to express his or her views.
Jurors must enter the discussion with open minds. They should freely exchange views.
They should not hesitate to change their opinions if the deliberations have convinced
them they were wrong initially.
In a criminal case, all jurors must agree on the verdict. This is also required
in a civil case, unless the jury is otherwise instructed by the court.
The jurors have a duty to give full consideration to the opinion of their fellow
jurors. They have an obligation to reach a verdict whenever possible. However, no
juror is required to give up any opinion which he or she is convinced is correct.
It would be dishonest for a judge to decide a case by tossing a coin. It would be
just as dishonest for a juror to do so.
The members of the jury are sworn to pass judgment on the facts in a particular
case. They have no concern beyond that case. They violate their oath if they render
their decision on the basis of the effect their verdict may have on other situations.
After the Trial
After the jurors return their verdict and are dismissed by the judge, they are free
to go about their normal affairs, although in some districts jurors must check with
jury office personnel to see if their service is concluded. They are under no obligation
to speak to any person about the case and may refuse all requests for interviews
or comments. Nevertheless, the court may enter an order in a specific case that
during any such interview, jurors may not give any information with respect to the
vote of any other juror.
To decide cases correctly, jurors must be honest and intelligent. They must have
both integrity and good judgment. The continued vitality of the jury system depends
on these attributes.
To meet their responsibility, jurors must decide the facts and apply the law impartially.
They must not favor the rich or the poor. They must treat alike all men and women,
corporations and individuals. Justice should be rendered to all persons without
regard to race, color, religion, or sex.
The performance of jury service is the fulfillment of a high civic obligation. Conscientious
service brings its own reward in the satisfaction of an important task well done.
There is no more valuable work that the average citizen can perform in support of
our Government than the full and honest discharge of jury duty.
The effectiveness of the democratic system itself is largely measured by the integrity,
the intelligence, and the general quality of citizenship of the jurors who serve
in our courts.