Handbook for Trial JurorsServing the United States District Court
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 finally 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 upon all the facts that matter in the case.
If it develops during the trial that 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 jury room.
Individual jurors should never inspect 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 and must not read about the case in the newspapers. They should avoid radio and television broadcasts that might mention the case. The jury’s verdict must be based on nothing else but the evidence and law presented to them in court.
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 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:
(1) Tell the person it is improper for a juror to discuss the case or receive any information except in the courtroom.
(2) Refuse to listen if the outsider persists.
(3) 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.
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.