Function of Jurors
Jurors judge the facts in both criminal and civil cases. In a criminal case, a jury determines whether the accused is guilty or not guilty of committing a criminal offense. In a civil case a jury determines disputes involving money, property and other things of value.
Members selected must not have personal knowledge regarding the facts of the particular case which could influence their decision. In order to reach this objective, the judge and attorneys question the jurors concerning their family relationship with or their personal knowledge of the parties or the attorneys and their personal knowledge of the facts of the case. This is called “voir dire”, meaning “to tell the truth”. If the relationship or knowledge would influence the juror’s decision in the case, the juror is disqualified from serving in the case.
Disqualification of Jurors
The qualification of jurors is one of the most important aspects of any trial, thus making honest and forthright answers to the questions of the judge and attorneys is extremely important. Jurors may be selected or rejected for many and various reasons, none of which reflect upon the individual juror. Jurors should not take it as personal insult if they are not selected to serve. In the event that the questions asked by the judge or attorneys become offensive, a juror may request permission of the court to refuse to answer.
Once a jury has been selected, each juror selected is required to take an oath or affirmation that he will return a verdict based on the law and evidence as presented in court.
Jurors shall be given a juror badge when selected for a jury trial. Jurors are to wear their badges while in the courthouse. If jurors leave the building for lunch or a break, they must remove their badges from public view.
Certificates of Attendance
Upon request, the bailiff, jury division, or clerk’s office will provide jurors with a certificate of attendance for employers. The certificate will indicate the time arrived and the time the juror was dismissed.
Types of Cases Heard
Jurors are called upon to hear both criminal and civil cases. Criminal cases are brought by the State of New Mexico District Attorney’s Office, or in some cases, by a city or county, against an individual charged with a crime. The individual is not guilty until the jury unanimously makes that determination.
Civil cases vary somewhat from criminal cases in that the dispute is between individuals, business organizations or governmental entities, such as the state, a county or a municipality. Ordinarily, one party, called the plaintiff, will be making a claim for damages against another party called the defendant. In some instances, the defendant will also make a claim for damages against the plaintiff called a counter claim. A third party, called a third-party defendant, may also be a party in the action, and damages or other relief may be requested from this party. In civil cases, the jury determines the amount of money, or damages, to be awarded.
In both civil and criminal cases, after the evidence has been presented, an explanation of the law applicable to the case and other instructions to the jury are given. This is usually followed by closing arguments or statements by the lawyers. The jury is then asked to deliberate and reach a verdict in the manner directed by the court.
Evidence is usually presented in the courtroom by question and answer. The attorneys or a party will question the witnesses and the answers become the evidence which the jury considers. At times, the court will prohibit a witness from answering to avoid the jury from hearing improper evidence. The lawyers may object to certain evidence and the judge will then decide if the evidence may be presented to the jury. The jury should not consider as evidence any statement made by a witness or a lawyer which the judge has ruled to be improper evidence.
In listening to testimony, the jury should consider whether or not a witness is truthful. It is important that a jury’s decision or verdict not be based upon false evidence.
Any documents, photographs or objects admitted into evidence are to be considered in determining the facts along with testimony and other competent evidence which has been admitted. The jury may also be asked to consider evidence in the form of depositions which are statements made by witnesses prior to trial. These will be read by the parties or attorneys and are just as important as other evidence.
Jurors remain seated throughout the proceedings in court except when requested by the bailiff or the court to stand.
The attitude and conduct of each juror throughout the trial is equally as important as that of the judge, the parties’ attorneys and witnesses. Because the jury has the important duty of deciding the true facts and applying those facts to the law applicable to the particular case, it is important that each juror understand the facts and apply the applicable law in order to reach a proper result.
It is important that jurors arrive at the time scheduled for the case to begin.
Jurors must remain alert throughout the trial. If a juror is unable to hear or see the evidence presented, it is the juror’s duty to make this known to the judge so that appropriate arrangements can be made.
Jurors may not discuss the case with anyone including the other jurors, and if anyone attempts to discuss the case with a juror, it is the juror’s duty to report this to the judge through the bailiff. Discussion concerning the evidence, witnesses or any aspect of the case with family members or friends is prohibited.
Jurors must avoid news accounts of the trial, whether they are on radio or television or the newspaper or other written publications.
Jurors may not inspect the scene of the occurrence which is the subject of the trial unless the court specifically makes provision for a view of the scene. This is important because the place where the incident occurred may be entirely changed from what it was at the time of the occurrence.
Only in rare cases are members of the jury kept away from their home continuously during the trial. They can leave to go home at night, but they cannot discuss the case with anyone, not even a member of their family.
Jurors may be allowed to take notes.
Deliberation of a Jury
After the judge has provided the jury with the law applicable to the case, it is the juror’s sworn duty to follow the law as explained by the judge and apply it to the facts presented in court.
The manner in which the jury deliberates in the jury room is completely within the jury’s control. The jurors should first select a foreperson. Once the foreperson of the jury is selected by the jurors, it is advisable that the foreperson act as chairperson for the procedural guidance of the jury during its deliberations. The foreperson has only one vote and should not be permitted to influence the other jurors.
Each juror’s vote should reflect the juror’s opinion. No juror should permit himself or herself to be pressured or pushed into a decision. Each juror should carefully consider the opinions and reasons of other jurors and avoid a stubborn attitude in order to prove a point.
A juror may not agree with the law as explained by the judge in the instructions to the jury. Any disagreement as to the law should have no effect on the decision of the juror. The jury is not deciding the law, but is determining the true facts. The juror’s duty is to carefully listen to the judge, witnesses and lawyers, to deliberate calmly and fairly, and to decide intelligently and justly.
Verdict of Jurors
In criminal cases, the agreement of all jurors is required to reach a verdict. In civil cases, if the jury consists of twelve persons, ten or more must concur in a verdict. If the jury consists of six persons. five or more must concur in the verdict.
After a verdict is reached by the jury, the foreperson should notify the bailiff that the jury is ready to report to the judge.
Questions During Deliberations
Jurors’ questions that cannot be resolved among the jurors may be submitted by a note to the judge setting forth the question. The note should be folded so that it cannot be seen by anyone. It is delivered to the bailiff for delivery to the judge. Jurors should make every effort possible to resolve all questions among themselves in order to avoid any outside influence from anyone, including the judge.
Time Spent Waiting
Jurors may be required to sit and wait for periods of time prior to and during a trial. This time is usually spent by the judge and attorneys considering legal matters necessary for a fair determination of the rights of the persons involved or to save time later on in the proceedings. Oftentimes, however, the judge may be called upon to consider emergency matters.
Conflicts in schedules may sometimes develop which result in delays. The Court is constantly searching for and implementing new ways to eliminate or avoid jurors having to spend unnecessary waiting time.
The Court would appreciate any suggestion on how the process may be improved.