Following America's struggle for independence, the founding fathers realized the need to guard the citizens of our new nation against the abuses of power by the government. Accordingly, a system of checks and balances was introduced to prevent any arbitrary acts by any of the branches of government. Thus trial by jury was guaranteed so that all final decisions on disputes involving liberty or property rested with the citizens rather than with a government official.
But, trial by a jury of impartial citizens was not always the case in Anglo-Saxon justice. The early English system was a jury of witnesses. People from the vicinity of the crime testified before the court about the action of the accused person. After hearing the evidence, the same witnesses decided the verdict.
However, on June 15, 1215, the Magna Carta provided that, "no free man shall be taken or imprisoned or outlawed or exiled or in anywise destroyed, save by the lawful judgment of his peers."
This important right was carried to America by the settlers and has survived over 200 years through the many harsh and changing periods of our nation. This right is guaranteed by our Federal Constitution as well as by our State Constitution. Trial by jury is reaffirmed no less than three times in the United States Constitution. One example is the 6th Amendmentwhich states, "the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed."
The Delaware County Court of Common Pleas is a Court of general jurisdiction vested with the constitutional authority to resolve disputes through the use of jury trials. The District Judges are magisterial courts of limited jurisdiction which are not empowered to resolve disputes by jury trials.
The service you will be performing as jurors in this Court is the cornerstone of our judicial system. It is a vital duty of every citizen, an absolute essential to our form of democratic society. Without it, our system of justice could be ruled by oppression or engulfed in anarchy. Fulfilling your obligation as a juror insures your fellow citizens of a fair decision regarding their property rights or their life and liberty.
For many of you, serving as a juror is an inconvenience and a sacrifice. However, the success of the jury system depends upon your willingness to serve. Your contribution is important not only to the community but also to you personally, since our form of society is only as strong as its system of justice. Your participation as a juror will leave you with firsthand knowledge of the judicial branch of government. You will find most trials extremely interesting and will feel gratified to have taken part in a real-life drama of great significance to your fellow man. You should take pride in helping to preserve and strengthen our system of justice
Let us now clear up a few misconceptions you may have about jury duty and alert you to some of the rules of conduct each juror must follow during a trial. Court usually begins at 9:30 a.m. However, jurors must be present no later than 9 o'clock each morning unless you are instructed differently. It is important to be on time, since many people are dependent upon your actions. If you serve as a juror, you are acting as an "Officer of the Court." As such, the Court requests that you dress appropriately for the courtroom setting.
As a general rule, your length of service is for one day or one trial. If you are chosen to serve as a juror on a trial, you will return each day to hear the case until it is completed. The trial may be carried over into the following week, in which event jurors are usually notified in advance. However, if you are not chosen to serve on a jury by the end of the day, your juror obligation has been completed and you will be excused. Exceptions to this general rule can and do occur; however, they are rare. Jurors usually can leave the Court House for lunch and usually are not required to remain overnight.
Although the workday for the juror generally ends between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., there may be occasions when striking of jurors may begin near or continue past that time. A Judge may strike a jury at the end of the day in order to start a trial early the next morning. This late-afternoon striking does not happen often, but it does happen. Because of the press of litigation and the heavy caseloads, time becomes precious and Judges try to use the available time in the most efficient manner.
A jury is occasionally sequestered, that is kept separated from the public for the duration of a trial, when the Judge deems the action necessary because of the nature of the trial. If sequestered, the jurors will have an opportunity to communicate with their families through court personnel; and arrangements will be made to have their clothing and personal articles delivered to them. Following your term of service, you will be compensated at the current daily rate for jury service plus a travel allowance.
When serving on a jury, you must follow exactly rules of conduct which are significant to your continued impartiality. You must not talk with anyone about the case. This most commonly includes your family, your friends and your fellow jurors. Only when you are sent to the jury room to deliberate can you discuss the case. To protect jurors from someone speaking unintentionally to you about a case, all jurors must wear the juror identification badge in a conspicuous place on their outer clothing. If a person attempts to discuss the case with you, you should refuse to listen, walk away and inform the court officers immediately. In addition, you must avoid listening to radio or television reports or reading newspaper articles about the case.
Also, you must not make an independent investigation or visit any of the places involved in the case. If it is proper or necessary to inspect a scene involved in the case, the Judge will order the jurors, as a group, to visit the scene. Remember, you can only consider evidence presented in court and must not form an opinion until all evidence has been presented, the lawyers have completed their summations, the Judge has instructed you on the law applicable to the case, and then has directed you to retire to the jury room to deliberate upon your verdict.
Other rules of conduct, no less significant than the preceding rules, include listening closely. Since your verdict is based on the evidence given in court, you should hear every question and every answer. You are not permitted to take notes in the courtroom, and therefore must rely on your memory to recall the evidence in the case. Remember, you are the sole finders of the facts - the judges of the truthfulness and accuracy of the testimony and evidence.
Let us take a look at a typical courtroom scene to familiarize you with the people, the strange language and the actions. Seated on the bench is the Judge, who is responsible for the conduct of the trial according to laws of the Commonwealth. The Judge makes all decisions on questions of law, usually relating to objections to evidence or testimony. At the end of the case, the Judge makes what is known as the "charge" to the jury, which explains the law to be followed in the case.
Facing the Judge are the principal parties in the lawsuit with their attorneys. Seated closest to the jury box is the District Attorney, who represents the Commonwealth in a criminal case, or the plaintiff's attorney and the plaintiff in a civil case. In a criminal case, a person is being charged by the State with violation of a law. In a civil case, the plaintiff has filed to resolve or settle a private dispute or claim with another party. At a table next to the prosecuting or plaintiff's attorney is the defendant and his/her attorney - the defense attorney. The defendant is the person charged with an offense in a criminal case or the party being sued in a civil case.
Other people involved in the courtroom setting include the Deputy Sheriffs, who are present during all criminal trials, and the Court Officers, who swear in all witnesses and assist the Judge, jurors and attorneys to make the trial function smoothly. The Court Clerk, who sits immediately in front of or next to the Judge's bench, is responsible for all the papers filed during a trial, as well as orders made by the court and the verdict at the end of the trial. The official record of all that transpires at the trial is created simultaneously with the proceedings by an eight track, centralized audio tape recording system. If requested, a typewritten transcript can be made of the proceedings.
Finally, there are the jurors. Your work is as important to the court proceedings as that of the Judge who presides. It is necessary for the Judge and jury to cooperate in a common effort to assure the delivery of justice.
If a defendant in a suit chooses a trial by jury, your role begins in voir dire, which is the selection of jurors. Under Pennsylvania law, 12 jurors are picked to decide a criminal case, unless the parties agree to a smaller number. Alternate jurors may be chosen to serve with and as part of the jury to avoid unnecessary delays or expenses in the event of the incapacity of a juror. In a civil case, a jury may consist of as few as eight jurors, depending upon the procedures followed in each case.
Jurors are again randomly picked by a computer to serve on the panel. Jurors are sent to a courtroom in panels of about 30 to 45 persons, sometimes more if it is a criminal case. The jurors are asked to sit in the body of the courtroom, or sometimes arranged in the jury box, in the alternate seats and the front row; but no matter where you sit, the voir dire, or striking of jurors, will then begin.
The Court Clerk has a master list of every name on the panel of jurors in the courtroom; and a copy of that list is given to each lawyer, District Attorney and defense attorney in a criminal case and the plaintiff's attorney and the defendant's attorney in a civil case.
The Judge will give you the names of the parties and their attorneys and will briefly summarize the nature of the case. This is the first information the jury receives concerning the case, which is not evidence, of course, but is given to you merely as background. The Judge will then ask you, as a group, certain questions before the striking begins. In some special cases, jurors may be questioned individually, as they usually are in capital cases.
These questions may seem quite personal. However, this examination is not meant to embarrass you or reflect upon your character or intelligence. Rather, the purpose is to find out if you have any views which might improperly influence you as a juror. Remember, the proper selection of the jury is dependent upon the candidness of your responses.
If any of the questioning discloses that any prospective juror has views which might improperly influence him or her in finding the true facts in the case, in abiding by the applicable law which is given by the Judge or in rendering a fair, just and impartial verdict, then that prospective juror will be excused for cause. There is no limit to the number of excusals for cause.
Each side in a case has a right to excuse prospective jurors from serving by exercising peremptory strikes. With the exception of strikes based on race or sex, a lawyer need not explain the reason why any particular prospective juror is striken. In exercising peremptory strikes, lawyers examine many factors, some of which are quite subjective. You may see a lawyer looking at the panel intently trying to decide whether or not to strike any particular name. Since no reason need be given for the strike, with the two exceptions already mentioned, a lawyer may strike a juror for almost any other reason, including intuition. Because peremptory challenges are, in a sense, arbitrary, they are limited in number. In a civil case, it is usually four peremptory challenges per party in the usual two party case. In a criminal case, depending upon the severity of the crime charged, each party may have as few as five or as many as twenty or more peremptory challenges.
Jurors excused for cause or by peremptory challenge will remain in the courtroom until the trial jury has been sworn in. Excused jurors and those not selected for the trial then will return to the jury room for further assignments.
After the process just described has been completed, the trial jurors and any alternates are selected in order from the remaining unchallenged panel members. The jurors will then be seated in the jury box and the clerk will administer the oath of office.
Clerk: You and each of you do solemnly swear by Almighty God, or do declare and affirm, that you will well and truly try the issue joined between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the defendant, and a true verdict render according to the evidence so help you God, or so you do affirm.
What occurs during the trial is described in a general way. Initially, the District Attorney, or the plaintiff's attorney, may make an opening statement to outline the case against the defendant. The defendant's attorney then may make a statement outlining the defense immediately thereafter, or may postpone it until later in the trial. Remember, the opening statements are not evidence, but only an outline of the case.
The District Attorney who represents the Commonwealth in a criminal case then presents evidence to the jury for examination. The District Attorney may call witnesses to testify and may offer exhibits such as documents or physical objects as evidence. However, the defendant has a right to cross-examine witnesses in order to test the truthfulness and accuracy of the testimony.
At the close of the Commonwealth's case, the defendant may offer evidence. Under the law, every defendant is presumed innocent. The burden is on the Commonwealth to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defense does call witnesses, the District Attorney may cross-examine those witnesses.
Likewise in a civil case, the plaintiff introduces the evidence to the jury first, and when finished the defendant may present any evidence. The plaintiff's burden in a civil case is to prove those contentions which entitle that party to the relief sought.
During the trial, one of the lawyers may object to a question posed, or an exhibit offered, by the opposing counsel. It is then the Judge's responsibility to decide if the question or exhibit is proper for you to hear or see. It is a question of law, and many times it is decided at a sidebar conference. Here the Judge meets with the attorneys out of hearing of the jury. Jurors should not be concerned with these sidebar conferences, and the ruling of the Judge on the objection does not indicate he or she is taking a side in the case. The Judge is merely saying to all parties that the law does or does not permit the question or exhibit to be introduced in the case as evidence. The reasoning of the Judge is based upon rules of evidence, which may be difficult for non-lawyers to understand. But these rules are the result of hundreds of years of experience in the trial of cases.
After all witnesses have been called and all evidence has been presented, both sides may then address the jury. This is called the final or closing argument. In the final argument each counsel will urge you to reach a conclusion favorable to the party he or she represents. Remember, arguments of counsel are not evidence.
The final stage of the trial is the charge to the jury by the Judge. No one is allowed to enter or leave during the charge. At this time the Judge, as an impartial party, explains to the jury the rules of law which apply to the case you have heard. You must accept and follow the law exactly as the Judge explains it to you. Additionally, the Judge points out the basic issues in the controversy. You must pay close attention to the Judge's instructions. This is the last word you will hear before you retire to reach an important verdict. You are now prepared to deliberate intelligently and reach a fair verdict in the case.
The initial concern of the jury is to select one of the members of the jury as a spokesperson. This juror is called the foreman or forelady. This selection should be relatively quick, since the foreperson has no more authority or vote in the discussions than any other juror. The foreperson announces the verdict in open court. Each juror should participate with an open mind and without fear of freely expressing and exchanging his or her views. You should respect and consider the opinions of your fellow jurors which appear reasonable.
But remember, in judging the credibility and weight of the evidence, you should use your understanding of human nature and your common sense. Observe each witness giving testimony. Be alert for anything in the witness' words, demeanor or behavior on the witness stand, or for anything in the other evidence in the case which might help you to judge the truthfulness, accuracy and weight of the testimony. You also should consider carefully the statements and arguments of counsel. It is proper to be guided by them if the statements and arguments are supported by the law and the evidence, and appeal to your reason and judgment.
Finally, you deliberate and decide the verdict. As soon as the verdict is reached, the jury's foreperson tells the court officer the jury is prepared to render that decision. You must not tell the court officer or anyone else the decision until the Judge requests it from you in open court. The foreperson then delivers the verdict for the jury.
You have now completed your jury service and have participated directly in the administration of justice. Your verdict has not only affected the parties involved in the case, but also has preserved and continued a vital ingredient in the American way of life.
If you serve on a jury, your time probably will go rapidly and your attention will be alert. However, some called as jurors may not be chosen to serve on a panel and may feel inconvenienced. But, in fact, their time is not wasted. The fact that you are ready to hear a case often results in the settlement of a case, saving the court time and money. In addition, many more jurors are called than actually serve because of challenges.
The Judges of this Court thank each of you for contributing your time for jury duty, which is one of the most important duties a citizen can perform for his nation. Many other systems have been tried throughout the world, but our system is the one believed most likely to accomplish justice and fairness. Trial by an impartial jury of citizens from the community is the cornerstone of the American judicial system by which our people judge and settle all controversies. It guarantees that no one person or government will dictate his opinion to others. It guarantees that all final decisions involving our liberty and property rest in the capable hands of the honorable men and women of the community who serve as jurors.
For official word of court closings or special announcements call 610-891-4067.
For more information, call Jury Services at 610-891-4621.