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Overview of Jury Service

The idea of a jury of our peers has been fundamental to the American justice system since its beginning. A group of six to twelve men and women from all sections of the community sit down together and hear a case of law. These individuals listen to the facts of the case, consult among themselves, and come to a verdict.

Responsibilities of the Judge and Jury

In order for our court system to work properly, judges and jurors must consider the cases before them in a way that is thoughtful, involves sound judgment, is impartial and fair, and shows integrity.

In each trial, the judge determines the rules of law that govern the case.  For example, the judge decides what evidence may be admitted or considers attorneys’ objections to something that was said during trial.  At times, the judge may excuse the jury from the courtroom or may speak to the attorneys privately.  When this occurs, jurors should not feel that their time is being wasted or that information is being withheld.  These conferences allow the trial to continue fairly and efficiently.

At the close of the trial, the judge gives jurors instructions as to the laws that govern the case.  At this time, the responsibility switches to the jurors.  After listening carefully and considering all of the testimony and evidence, jurors move to the jury room to discuss the case in privacy.  Jurors decide which facts in the case are most credible and then apply the law as instructed by the judge in order to reach a verdict.

In a civil case, jurors decide which party should prevail and whether damages – usually money should be awarded.  In a criminal case, jurors decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

Types of Cases

Juries are called to hear two types of cases: civil and criminal.

Civil Cases: Civil cases involve disputes between people or organizations.  They may involve property or personal rights, such as landlord/tenant disputes, auto or personal injury accidents, product warranties, contract disputes, and harassment and employment disputes. 

The party that sues is called the plaintiff, while the party being sued is known as the defendant or respondent.  The case begins when the plaintiff files a written complaint.  The other party then generally disputes the claim by filing an answer.

Criminal Cases: On behalf of citizens, the State of Minnesota files criminal cases against individuals or corporations accused of committing crimes.  In most cases, a prosecutor files a complaint, which explains the charges against the defendant.  If the charge is brought by a grand jury, it is known as an indictment.

The person charged with an offense may admit the charge is true by entering a plea of guilty or may deny the charge by pleading not guilty.