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Know the Law: Don't be afraid to have case tried by jury

Written by: Ashley B. Campbell

Published in the Union Leader (5/7/2018)

Q. If my case is going to be tried by a jury, should I be scared?

A. Fear not. The trial process is your right. There are safeguards to ensure everyone gets a fair trial. Here, in brief, is an overview of what happens at trial.

First, a jury is selected from a pool of potential jurors: people just like you who understand how nervous you are and who can evaluate the truthfulness of witnesses. A jury in New Hampshire is comprised of 12 people usually with two alternates, totaling 14. 

To choose a jury, the attorneys and judge ask dozens of potential jurors a series of questions to determine whether they hold any biases or prejudices that would prevent them from being impartial. Both attorneys and the judge can identify jurors who would not be fit to serve.

The judge presides over the jury selection process, which means that she or he determines which jurors cannot impartially decide your case and excuses those people. The judge also rules on motions and objections made by the attorneys before and during trial. Motions and objections are the means attorneys use to identify what evidence and legal theories can be presented to the jury.

Once 14 jurors are selected, the judge may provide short instructions to them about how they should listen to and consider testimony. Then, each attorney makes an opening statement: plaintiff followed by defendant. Opening statements tell the jury what the parties’ case is about from each side’s perspective.

Then, the plaintiff’s attorney calls their witnesses. Witnesses are the means by which attorneys present evidence, both by their testimony, and physical evidence. After each plaintiff witness testifies, the defendant’s attorney is entitled to question those witnesses, which is known as cross examination. Then the defendant calls witnesses, and the plaintiff’s attorney cross examines.

After all witnesses have testified, each attorney makes a closing argument to the jury, which summarizes the parties’ claims and legal arguments. Often the plaintiff’s attorney asks the jury for a monetary award during this argument.

Then, the judge provides more instruction to the jury about the law that applies to all the evidence they have received and sends the jury to a private room to deliberate and reach a unanimous verdict. The jury then provides their verdict to the judge who shares it with the parties: The verdict is not as dramatic in the courtroom as you often see on TV.

Ashley Campbell can be reached at [email protected].

Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton, Professional Association. We invite your questions of business law. Questions and ideas for future columns should be addressed to: McLane Middleton, 900 Elm St., Manchester, NH 03101 or emailed to [email protected]. Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your situation.

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