Jury Duty

The following material is reproduced from the Juror's Manual distributed to jurors at the 16th District Court.

You have been called to serve for a short time as a juror. The function of a juror is an extremely important one in a democratic and civilized society. The property or the liberty of another human being or group of human beings is at stake. If you are a conscientious person, you will want to do your very best to make sure that the jury on which you sit returns a verdict which is as fair and impartial as possible. In all likelihood, however, you have never before been a juror. You may never even have been in a courtroom before this. You probably have many questions about the trial and about your duties as a juror. The purpose of this booklet is to explain to you generally the manner in which lawsuits are tried and the part which you, as a juror, must play in seeing that justice is done.

Civil & Criminal Cases

You already know that lawsuits fall into two categories. Some are civil cases. Some are criminal cases. However, you probably do not have a clear idea as to the distinction between the two. A few general comments can help you see the difference.

Civil Cases

In civil cases, the party starting the lawsuit is known as the plaintiff. The person against whom the suit is brought is called the defendant. Plaintiff's suit is commenced by service of two documents, a Summons and a Complaint, upon the defendant. The Summons does what its name suggests; it summons or calls the defendant before the court.

The Complaint
The Complaint is perhaps the more important document. In the Complaint, the plaintiff makes allegations or accusations against the defendant. The plaintiff's Complaint will charge the defendant either with causing bodily injury or property damage or with depriving the plaintiff of something of value to which the plaintiff believes he's is entitled. The Complaint will also request the court to award damages, that is, money to the plaintiff to compensate him for his bodily injury or property damages or the thing of which he has been deprived. The defendant responds to the Complaint by filing a document called an Answer. These papers, called the pleadings, have been exchanged between the parties sometime before the trial starts.

Simple Civil Case
The foregoing describes a very simple civil case. Often, civil cases are more complicated. You may be selected as a juror in a civil case where there are several plaintiffs or several defendants. Or, in addition to the request by the plaintiff for money damages, the defendant may also be requesting money damages either from the plaintiff in what is called a counter-claim, or from another defendant, called a cross-claim, or from a person not originally involved in the case but later added and called a third-party defendant. Moreover, it must be remembered that the plaintiff and the defendant are not always individuals. They may be partnerships or corporations. Even the city, county, state, or federal government may be a party to a civil action.

Criminal Cases

In criminal cases, the party starting the lawsuit is always, The People: acting through governmental representatives, such as the County Prosecuting Attorney, when a violation of State law is alleged, or the City Attorney, when a violation of a City ordinance is alleged. All crimes are prosecuted in the name of the appropriate governmental body, for when a crime is committed, it is the law of the state that is broken and the offense is against the people of the state, not just against one or more individuals as in a civil case. 


The purpose of a criminal case is to determine whether or not the defendant violated one or more of our statutory laws. Prior to the trial, a complaint is prepared and filed setting forth one or more charges against the defendant. Several charges may be combined in one such complaint but each is separately stated and is called a count. For example, a complaint may charge in one count that the defendant robbed the complainant, while in a second count, it may charge that the defendant also assaulted and beat the complainant.

After the charge or charges are filed, but before the trial, the defendant is arraigned. That is, he is brought before the judge and the complaint is read to him. For each violation charged he is asked, How do you plead? And he pleads guilty or not guilty.


There are other, very important, differences between civil and criminal cases. These differences are not discussed in this booklet, but the specific rules which will apply to the trial in which you participate as a juror, whether civil or criminal, will be explained carefully to you by the judge. If you do not understand or if you have any questions about any of the Judge's instructions, you should not only feel entirely free but duty -bound to ask the judge to explain further.

Selection of Jury

You and a number of other citizens determined at random in accordance with the law and qualified to serve as jurors have been notified to come to Court for jury duty. Collectively you are called the jury panel. The first step in a trial is to select from among you the number required to try the case- 6 jurors are usually required. Names are drawn from the jurymen present until the jury box is filled. If your name is called, you will be required to answer truthfully all questions asked of you concerning your qualifications to act as a juror in the case. 

Qualifying for the Case

A short statement will be made telling you what the case is about and the parties involved. Once you and the other prospective jurors have this information, the lawyers or the Judge may question you to see if you are qualified to act as fair and impartial jurors. The lawyer or judge may ask you questions about your personal life and beliefs. This is often referred to as the voir dire examination. You should answer these questions fairly, and if for any reason you feel you should not serve as a juror, you should make the reason known. 

Any juror who is related to any of the parties, or who has unfinished business with one of the lawyers, or who knows so much about the case that he already has an opinion, will be challenged for cause and excused. In addition, each side has a right to excuse a certain number of jurors without giving any reason. These are called peremptory challenges. If you are challenged and excused, whether the reason is stated or not, it should be understood that this action is not a reflection on you in any way. Indeed, you may be selected later for the jury in another trial. When both sides are satisfied with the jury, the jurors who have been chosen are sworn to try the case upon the merits.

Importance of a Jury

You, as a member of the jury selected to try a lawsuit, have an extremely important function. You will be the judge of all questions of fact. You will know what each side claims or says the facts are. However, you and the other members of the jury must carefully consider all of the evidence brought before the Court and determine what the facts really are. Once you have deliberated and determined the facts, you will then apply the judge's instructions on the law given at the end of the trial to the facts that you find to be the correct version and thereby actually settle the dispute or disputes between the parties.


These disputes which you, as a member of the jury, must decide are obviously most important to the parties involved. Our court system must continue to enjoy the respect of the people and to be an effective instrument for settling disputes fairly and peaceably. You and the other jurors must live up to the solemn oath that will be administered to you as soon as all the trial jurors are selected.