St. Louis County Jury Information
The Trial Process
The Parties and the Pleadings
In a civil case, the person starting the lawsuit is known as the plaintiff. The person against whom the suit is brought is known as the defendant. The plaintiff starts the lawsuit by filing a document (known as a petition) with the court claiming entitlement to some type of relief. A copy of the petition along with a summons is sent to the defendant. The defendant then files a written response (answer) to the petition. If the defendant has a claim against the plaintiff, the defendant may include that claim (counterclaim) in the response. If the petition or counterclaim includes more than one claim, each claim is referred to as a separate count.
In a criminal case, the plaintiff is the State of Missouri and is represented by the prosecutor. All alleged crimes are prosecuted in the name of the state because the laws of the state are alleged to have been broken. The person charged is the defendant. The charge is made in writing by a complaint, information or indictment of the grand jury. The defendant must enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the plea is not guilty, the case is set for trial and a jury must decide the disputed issues.
If the parties are unable to resolve the dispute, the judge will call for a jury panel. The jury panel will consist of names randomly drawn from the group summoned for jury duty and waiting in the assembly room. The first step in a trial is to select from a panel of 30 or so potential jurors 12 people to try the case. In order to select the jury, individuals on the panel will be asked questions by counsel for both the plaintiff and the defendant. Each person on the panel is required to take an oath swearing to answer all questions asked of him/her fully and truthfully. If you do not understand the question or need clarification on a particular point, raise your hand and ask the judge. When the questioning is complete, the judge and parties have a conference to select the jury that will try the case. In some cases, alternates are selected in addition to the 12 primary jurors.
Alternates are used to replace a juror who for some compelling reason cannot continue to serve. Therefore, if you are selected as an alternate you must pay close attention to the evidence because you may have to replace one of the other jurors. Persons not chosen as jurors for a particular trial should not consider the fact that they were not selected as a negative reflection on them. No such reflection was intended by the judge or any of the parties in the case.
The jury is selected, impaneled, and sworn in by the judge. Those not selected will either return to the assembly room or be dismissed. The trial can now begin.
The trial starts with the plaintiff or plaintiff’s attorney giving the jury an opening statement. The opening statement is not evidence, but simply a statement which informs the jury what the case is about and what the plaintiff expects to prove. The plaintiff then starts presenting evidence. The evidence can be witness testimony or exhibits such as charts, graphs, photographs or other items. The defendant is entitled to question the plaintiff’s witnesses by a process known as cross-examination. Some witnesses are unavailable for a trial and their testimony may be taken by a deposition. A deposition is the written or videotaped testimony taken outside of court. This can be read or played for a jury in some cases. All parties have an opportunity to be present and question the witness. When the plaintiff is done with their part of the case, they will announce that the plaintiff “rests”. The defendant then has the opportunity to present their case and offer evidence. The plaintiff, of course, has the right to cross-examine defense witnesses. Once all the evidence is before the jury, the judge will instruct the jury on the law. The lawyers are then allowed to make closing arguments to the jury. The jury then retires to deliberate and decide the case in accordance with the judge’s instructions.
Delays During Trial
During the trial there may be delays for any one of many reasons. Someone may have been delayed en route to the courthouse. Sometimes delays occur because the judge needs to research the law on some point arising during the trial. The lawyers may be debating a legal point which should not be argued in the jury’s presence. The parties may be trying to make a last minute settlement, which if successful would end the case. You may not know the reason for the delay and should not guess at it. Very often the delay actually saves time and more quickly brings the case to an end. Please be patient.