About the Jury Process

"Do you swear or affirm that you will try the matter in dispute and give a true verdict according to the evidence?" N.J.S.A. 2B:23-6 Oath of Jurors

Each day, American citizens just like you participate in our judicial process by serving as jurors. This page explains how lawsuits are tried and the important role of jurors within the judicial system.

The United States jury system and our system in New Jersey have their source in English history. The right to trial by jury in this country dates back to the Colonial period. This right is discussed in the Declaration of Independence, and is guaranteed by the Sixth and Seventh Amendments to the United States Constitution, and in Article One of the New Jersey Constitution.

The guarantee of trial by jury is the reason you have been called to serve as a juror. It is both an honor and a duty to participate in our judicial process. As a juror, you will have the opportunity to observe, participate in, and increase your knowledge about the operation of our court system and the judicial branch of government.

If you have questions about the jury process in a particular county, contact the Jury Manager in that county

The Difference Between a Civil and a Criminal Case

A civil case for which a jury is involved is generally a dispute between two or more parties that does not involve a criminal matter, and is not a dispute between family members regarding divorce or child custody. In family matters, a judge handles the case without a jury. In a civil matter, in order for a plaintiff to win a case, it is only necessary for the plaintiff to prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence or in some cases by clear and convincing evidence

In a criminal matter, the defendant has a right to a trial by jury The defendant is also constitutionally entitled to be presumed innocent of the charges until the jury finds otherwise. More proof is required to find a person guilty of a crime than to return a verdict for a plaintiff in a civil case. In order to return a verdict of guilty in a criminal trial, the charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

In both a civil and criminal case, the judge instructs jurors on the standards to be applied in the case. In most civil cases, six jurors sit to hear a matter, although there may be 12 jurors. In criminal cases, 12 jurors are impanelled. To accommodate situations in which additional jurors may be needed, for example if a juror needs to be excused after the trial has begun, more than the required number of jurors are initially selected in both civil and criminal trials. These individuals serve as alternate jurors. They do not participate in deliberations but may be asked to remain at the courthouse until deliberations are completed. Those selected as alternate jurors perform a valuable function by participating at trial and being available to replace excused jurors, if necessary. In a civil trial, five jurors are needed to return a verdict in favor of one party or the other. In a criminal case the verdict must be unanimous.

The Different Roles of Criminal Jurors and a Civil Jurors

The duties of a criminal juror are not significantly different from those of a civil juror. In both cases, jurors are required to pay attention in court, listen to all the evidence presented, and render a verdict at the end of the trial based upon the evidence presented and the law, as instructed by the judge. In most criminal cases, jurors will not be asked to pass a sentence on the defendant. It is the judge who imposes sentence if a jury determines that a defendant is guilty. However, in a capital case in which the prosecuting attorney is requesting the death penalty, the jury will be asked to recommend whether the court should impose a death sentence.

How a Civil Case Gets to Trial

In a civil case, the party filing a lawsuit is called a plaintiff. The party against whom the lawsuit is filed is called a defendant. Notice of a lawsuit is given to the defendant by the service of a summons. The plaintiff's claim and demand are stated in a complaint. The defendant's response to the complaint is called an answer. If the defendant makes a claim against the plaintiff, this is called a counterclaim. If a counterclaim is made, the plaintiff's response is called an answer to the counterclaim. If there is more than one defendant, and the defendants make claims against each other, these are called cross claims.

All of these documents, a complaint, answer, counterclaim and cross claim, are called pleadings and will have been exchanged between the parties some time before the actual trial begins. If more than one party has more than one claim against another party, each claim may be stated as a cause of action. After the complaint, answer, counterclaim and cross claims have been filed, the parties engage in a process called discovery. This is an exchange of information regarding their claims, including an exchange of documents and the opportunity to question witnesses. The questioning of witnesses takes place at a deposition, during which the witness is placed under oath. The questions and answers are recorded by a stenographer and produced in the form of a transcript. The deposition may also be videotaped. The case is scheduled for trial after discovery is completed and the parties have filed pretrial motions. Pretrial motions involve matters that the parties need to bring to the court's attention before the trial begins.

How a Criminal Case Gets to Trial

All criminal actions are prosecuted in the name of the state of New Jersey. When a criminal offense is committed, it is the laws of the state that are broken, and thus the offense is against the people of the state. Either a civilian or a police officer may fill out a criminal complaint. The complaint is then forwarded to the county prosecutor's office for a determination as to whether the complaint should be brought before a grand jury. In some cases, the defendant may waive his or her right to an indictment by a grand jury and the offense charged may be brought directly to court for a trial by a jury.

The primary function of the grand jury is to determine whether there is a "prima facie" (Latin meaning "at first glance") case leading the grand jury to believe that a crime was committed and that the accused committed the crime. In short, the grand jury serves as a screening mechanism to protect citizens from unfounded charges. The function of the grand jury is not to determine whether someone is guilty or not guilty of a crime -- that is the responsibility of the petit jury, otherwise known as the trial jury. The grand jury considers whether there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against a person The standard before the grand jury is not the same as the standard before the criminal trial jury and a full blown trial is not conducted before the grand jury. Also, the technical rules of evidence do not apply to the grand jury. After the charge is presented, the grand jury will hear testimony and review the evidence the state has gathered in support of its charges. The grand jury has the power to compel witnesses to attend its hearings; the accused and any witness on behalf of the accused generally do not testify. Grand jury hearings are not conducted in public so that witnesses may speak freely and so that the accused will not be publicly tainted if no indictment is returned. This is different from civil and criminal trials where, except in the case of family and juvenile matters, the trials are open to the public. The grand jury may either return a no bill, which means no indictment, or a true bill, which is an indictment. Each offense charged must be separately stated, although the charges may be combined into one indictment. Each charge in an indictment is called a count.

Sometime before the trial, the defendant will appear before a judge at an arraignment and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a trial date is set. Before trial, there is a process called discovery which requires the prosecutor to provide the defendant with a list of witnesses he or she expects to call and information about any evidence obtained against the defendant. This evidence includes things that may incriminate the defendant, as well as evidence that may show the defendant did not commit the crime.

Requirements of Grand and Petit Juries

The terms "grand jury" and "petit jury" are French in origin "grand" meaning large and "petit" meaning small. The terms refer to the number of jurors serving on each jury, not the importance of the respective functions. There are 23 members who deliberate as a grand jury but no more than 12 who deliberate as a petit jury, whether in a civil or a criminal trial.

The grand jury is part of the criminal justice system. Although it acts under the authority of the courts and is considered a part of the court system, it is an independent body with the authority to conduct investigations, to direct the prosecutor to assist in those investigations, and to subpoena witnesses as well as other evidence necessary to the investigations.

State law requires that there be at least one grand jury sitting in each county at all times. The requirements for serving as a grand or petit juror in New Jersey are the same. A person must be at least 18 years old, a United States citizen, a resident of the county in which summoned, and be able to read and understand English. Also, grand and petit jurors cannot have pleaded guilty or been convicted of an indictable offense, and must be able to mentally and physically perform the functions of a juror. The judiciary will, with advance notice, provide reasonable accommodations consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act if such accommodations are needed.

How a Jury Is Selected

The entire group summoned for service by the Assignment Judge is called the jury panel. The Jury Management Office within each county works with the trial judges and criminal and civil division managers to schedule a sufficient number of jurors for each day's anticipated trials. The Jury Management Office communicates with judges or their staff throughout the day so that jurors are available when needed and so that members of the jury panel may be dismissed for the day once all trial needs are met.

The first step in a trial is to select from the panel the number of jurors required to try the case. As discussed earlier, in a civil case there are usually eight jurors seated, with six deliberating and the others selected as alternates. In criminal cases, there are usually 14 jurors selected so that alternates are available. Jurors may be selected by drawing names or numbers from a box, or they may be randomly selected by computer. If you are called as a prospective juror you are required to truthfully answer all questions regarding your qualifications to serve as a juror in the case. Each of the lawyers or participants in the case has been provided with a jury list, which contains information regarding each juror's name, address and occupation.

After a short statement is given describing the case and the parties involved, the judge will question the prospective jurors to determine if they are qualified to act fairly impartially and have no interest in the result of the case. There are certain legal grounds for which a juror may be challenged for cause and excused, such as a juror being incapable of being impartial due to prior dealings with a party, witness, or attorney involved in the case.

In addition, each side can excuse a certain number of jurors without giving any reason These are called peremptory challenges. The number of peremptory challenges is limited and is specified within the court rules. Peremptory challenges may be used, for example, when a party believes that a prospective juror has had some experience with the issues or facts in the case, and that experience could impact how that juror will decide the matter. In that situation, a party may simply prefer to have another juror seated. Jurors who are challenged should not feel offended -- such procedures are simply another safeguard operating within our trial system. The lawyers or the judge may ask prospective jurors questions about their personal lives and beliefs. These questions should be answered fairly, openly, candidly, and without embarrassment. If there is any reason prospective jurors feel they should not serve, that reason should be made known during this questioning. If there is a question a prospective juror feels he or she cannot answer in public, a request may be made to tell the judge privately at the bench. The entire process of juror questioning is called "voir dire", which is French for "speak the truth."

Why Jurors Take an Oath

After the jurors are selected, they are required to swear or to affirm, that they will "...try the matter in dispute and give a true verdict according to the evidence." When the jurors take this oath, they become the judge of all questions of fact and are duty bound to act fairly and impartially in considering the evidence presented.

After the oath is administered, the trial begins. At this time, the judge may give some preliminary instructions regarding how the case will proceed, as well as particular instructions regarding procedures in that judge's courtroom.

The Opening Statement

At the beginning of the trial, each side has the opportunity to make an opening statement explaining its case, but is not required to do so. In an opening statement, attorneys for each party will explain the claims and outline the evidence they will use to prove their party's claim. These statements are not evidence, but only an explanation of what each side claims and expects to prove during the trial. Any claims made in the opening statement must be proven by evidence. In a criminal case, the offense is against the people of the state, and the lawyer representing the state is called the prosecutor. The prosecutor is required to make an opening statement. The defense is not required to make an opening statement.

How Each Side Presents Its Case

Anything that tends to prove or disprove a claim about facts is called evidence. Evidence generally takes two forms: oral and documentary. Oral evidence comes in the form of testimony from witnesses. Documentary evidence may be something in writing, or it may be an article such as a photograph or a sound recording. Tangible evidence, such as the piece of an engine or some other object, is called an exhibit. The trial judge manages the trial and rules on the admissibility of evidence.

During the trial, lawyers may refer to exhibits "marked" for purposes of identification and ask the judge to admit the documents or objects "into evidence." Evidence can also be the statement of a witness -- a person who observed or participated in an event relevant to the subject of the trial. The witness' statement is called testimony. Whether an individual witness may give testimony is a decision made by the judge. In some cases, the parties may present the testimony of expert witnesses.

An expert witness is someone who, because of his or her qualifications, is in a position to evaluate certain evidence and render an opinion The judge determines, prior to that person being permitted to testify, whether a witness is qualified as a matter of law as an expert. If a witness is absent, written testimony, or in some cases videotaped testimony, may have been taken before the trial under oath in a deposition Parts of the transcript of a deposition may be admitted as evidence at a trial and will be considered with all other evidence presented in the case.

How Witnesses Are Examined

To help prove a case, witnesses are generally called to testify. The witnesses are sworn to tell the truth. A lawyer who has called a witness proceeds with direct examination, asking questions of the witness that will bring out the facts of the case. In any important matter, the lawyer, on direct examination, is not allowed to lead the witness by asking questions in a form that would suggest the answer. For example, a question that starts out by saying "you agree that..." is a leading question. The questions asked must also have some bearing on the case and must be within the direct knowledge of a witness. A witness cannot speculate.

If these and other rules are not followed, a lawyer for the other side may object to the question. If the question is improper, the judge will sustain the objection, which means that the question cannot be answered. If the question is proper, the judge will overrule the objection and the witness will be required to answer. The fact that the judge makes a ruling on a particular question does not reflect the judge's opinion regarding the reliability of a witness, and it is important that jurors not give such rulings any weight when considering the evidence presented by either side.

When the direct examination is concluded, the lawyer for the other side may ask questions of the witness. This is called cross-examining the witness. The cross-examining lawyer is allowed to ask leading questions. At the conclusion of the cross-examination, the first lawyer may ask questions to clarify points developed during the cross-examination. This is called redirect examination. If, during testimony by the witness, the judge rules that a portion of the testimony be stricken from the record, the trial judge will instruct the jury to disregard that portion of the testimony.

Each juror should pay close attention to the witness who is testifying, both to hear what the witness says and to watch the witness's manner and actions. In evaluating a witness's testimony a juror may consider the witness's credibility and ultimately decide how much weight the testimony deserves.

When all evidence for the plaintiff or the state has been submitted, the plaintiff's lawyer or the prosecutor indicates this by resting the case. The defendant's lawyer then has the opportunity to call witnesses for the defendant and offer evidence to support the defendant's case following the same rules and procedures outlined for the prosecution. Because the defendant is presumed innocent, he or she is not required to testify nor is the defendant required to present evidence proving his or her innocence. During the trial, the judge will give jurors instructions regarding the defendant's presumption of innocence and the state's burden of proof. When the defendant's case has been completed, the defendant's lawyer rests the defendant's case. The plaintiff or prosecutor then has a final opportunity to offer evidence, known as rebuttal evidence, to explain or deny any of the defendant's evidence.

Closing Statements

After all the evidence has been presented, the lawyers may make their final arguments to the jury and give the reasons they believe their client should prevail. Lawyers for each side will attempt to point out why their client's witnesses should be believed and why their evidence is more credible than evidence for the other side. While you should listen to the closing arguments carefully, always remember that lawyers are only arguing for their clients. What they say is not evidence. You should not make up your mind until you have heard all sides of the case and the instructions of the judge, and have an opportunity to deliberate with your fellow jurors.

The Judge's Role During the Trial

The judge is responsible for making sure that the trial proceeds in a proper manner. The judge is also responsible for deciding issues of law and procedure that may arise during the trial and for instructing the jury on the law.

During the trial, a lawyer might request a judge to take action. This is usually done by making a motion. For example, a lawyer may make a motion to strike certain testimony because it was not properly given. If the judge orders the testimony stricken, the jury must disregard it and may not consider it during deliberations. A lawyer may also make a motion to prevent a witness from testifying. These motions are usually heard by the judge alone, after the jury has been excused to the jury room.

During a trial, a juror may notice that the judge calls the lawyers to the bench, or the lawyers may request to approach the bench to discuss a point of the case out of hearing of the jury. Such discussions, commonly referred to as side bar discussions, are between the judge and lawyers only, and often concern matters of law or procedure. Having lawyers approach the bench avoids the inconvenience of sending the jury from the courtroom. However, if the discussion is going to be lengthy most judges will excuse the jury. The jury must decide a case on facts alone, thus it is the policy to discuss questions of law and procedure out of the jury's hearing to avoid confusion. Jurors should not attempt to draw any conclusions about what has been said out of their hearing.

At the close of either party's case, or after all evidence in the case has been presented, one or both sides may make a motion to the court for a directed verdict. That party is indicating their belief that the other side has not presented credible evidence that supports their position. If the judge agrees that the facts are undisputed, or the law dictates that one of the parties is entitled to a judgment, the judge will issue the appropriate verdict. In such a case, the judge alone is responsible and the jury must do as the judge directs. Judges seldom grant motions for a directed verdict. Not granting such a motion does not mean that the judge believes the other side is guilty. It means that the judge believes there are disputed facts and the jury should render a verdict in the matter.

The Judge's Instructions to the Jury at the End of Trial

The judge's role is to decide issues of law, and the jurors' duty is to decide issues of fact and apply the facts to the law. The judge does not presume that you, as a juror, know the law on any given issue. Rather, at the end of the case the judge will tell you what the law is. You should listen very carefully to these instructions and try to remember them. These instructions will guide your deliberations. The trial judge will identify one of the jurors as the foreperson. The forepersons duty is to communicate with the court on the jury's behalf and to facilitate discussions between the jurors. The foreperson does not carry any more weight in the deliberations than any other juror. Once the jury has reached a verdict, the jury foreperson will report to the court officer that a verdict has been reached and the jurors will be called back into the courtroom where the jury foreperson will read the verdict.

How Juror Should Behave During a Trial?

There are certain rules that a juror should follow throughout the trial in order to be fair to all sides. During the trial, jurors should not talk about the case with other jurors, or with other persons, or allow people to talk about the case in their presence. If a person persists, a juror should report the matter to the judge or a court official immediately.

Jurors should not talk about the trial with witnesses, lawyers or anyone else related to the case during the trial because it could appear that something unfair is going on even though the discussion may have nothing to do with the trial. The judge may also instruct jurors not to listen to the radio, watch television reports or read articles regarding the trial. Even if the judge does not specifically prohibit it, jurors should not read or listen to news reports about the trial during the trial.

If I've been determined to be eligible to receive unemployment benefits in NJ, do I remain eligible for those benefits when I serve as a petit juror, grand juror, or State grand juror?

Yes, unemployment benefits are not affected by service as a juror because N.J.S.A 43:21-4(c)(5) protects those benefits during juror service. That statute states that an unemployed individual, who is otherwise eligible, shall not be deemed unavailable for work or ineligible solely by reason of the individual's attendance before a court in response to a summons for service on a jury.

If an employment interview is scheduled on a day on which you need to report for juror service, advise the Jury Manager in advance, if possible, and be prepared to provide verification of the interview.