Jury trials proceed in the same manner as bench trials, but there are a few key differences.
Like a bench trial, lawyers make opening statements at the start of a jury trial. The petitioner (the party that filed first) makes the first opening statement. The respondent can then either make an opening statement or reserve. Most lawyers make an opening statement after the petitioner’s opening statement.
Petitioner’s Case in Chief
After opening statements, the petitioner introduces his or her evidence. The respondent can question witnesses the petitioner calls and introduce exhibits through those witnesses, but the petitioner decides which witnesses get called and in what order. At the conclusion of the petitioner’s case in chief, the petitioner will rest.
If the petitioner has the burden of proof on issues, the respondent may move for a directed verdict at the end of the petitioner’s case in chief. The respondent may do this if he or she feels that the petitioner did not provide enough evidence for a reasonable jury to rule in the petitioner’s favor. If granted, the issue will be taken away from the jury as a matter of law, and the judge will deny the relief granted before the jury gets the issue. Directed verdicts are rare, but a valuable tool nonetheless.
Respondent’s Case in Chief
Once the petitioner rests, it is the respondent’s turn to present his or her case. The respondent can call his or her own witnesses and introduce additional exhibits. At the conclusion of the respondent’s case in chief, the respondent will rest, and the petitioner can move for a directed verdict as well, if appropriate.
Rebuttal/Rest and Close
After the respondent rests, the petitioner can put on rebuttal evidence. At the conclusion of rebuttal, the court will ask if both parties rest and close. If they do, the evidence will be closed, and the jury will not hear any additional evidence.
Once evidence is closed, outside the presence of the jury, the judge will conduct a charge conference. During this conference, the judge will decide what instructions to give the jury. If there are differences between the parties’ proposed charges, the judge will rule on those differences. At the conclusion of the charge conference, the judge will circulate the final version of the charge to the lawyers.
When the charge is ready, the jury will return to the courtroom where the judge will read them the charge, and the lawyers will make their closing arguments. The petitioner makes their closing argument first. After the petitioner finishes, the respondent will make a closing argument. The petitioner will then have one final opportunity to offer a rebuttal.
At the conclusion of closing arguments, the judge will excuse the jury to begin ‘deliberation’ (the process of making their decision). Before they start deliberating, the jury will select a foreperson, and the exhibits admitted into evidence will be taken back to the jury for them to review. If the jury has questions for the judge, the foreperson will write the questions and submit them to the judge. The judge will then read the question to the lawyers, and the lawyers and judge will decide how the question will be decided. If there is a disagreement about how to answer the question, the judge will rule on the issue.
To reach a verdict, 10 of the 12 jurors must agree on all issues. Once the jury has decided, they will notify the judge, and they return to the court where the judge will read the verdict to the parties. The jury’s decision will be final, subject to a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (‘JNOV’). A JNOV works just like a directed verdict—a JNOV may only be granted by the judge if there is no legal basis for a reasonable jury to rule as it had.