About Texas Courts
The Texas judicial system can be very confusing for those who are not familiar with it. The six types of trial courts in Texas include district courts, constitutional county courts, statutory county courts at law, statutory probate courts, justice of the peace courts, and municipal courts. All of these courts permit jury trials and you could be summoned to serve in any of these courts.
Types of Cases
A criminal case results when a person, the defendant, is accused of committing a crime. By presenting evidence at trial, the state, represented by the district or county attorney, must prove that the defendant committed the charges "beyond a reasonable doubt." Although the defendant is constitutionally entitled to be presumed innocent, the members of the jury must consider all of the evidence presented at the trial and ultimately determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the crime.
A civil case results from a disagreement or dispute between two or more individuals or organizations. The party bringing the civil suit is the plaintiff. The party being sued is the defendant. Civil suits usually involve disagreements about money or property, and no criminal violations are involved. In a civil case, you, as a juror, must answer questions of disputed facts based upon the testimony and evidence admitted by the Judge. The answers to these questions are called the verdict.
Jury Size & Use
While jury trials held in district court consist of 12 jurors, jury trials in county courts, probate courts, justice of the peace, and municipal courts consist of 6 jurors. To return a valid verdict in criminal trials, jurors must reach a unanimous verdict. In civil trials, agreement of just five sixths of the jurors is sufficient to reach a valid verdict.
Civil and criminal cases begin with the delivery of opening statements by the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant. Each lawyer will explain the case, their client's position, the evidence that they expect to present during the trial to support their claims and defenses, and the issues that you will be called upon to decide. These statements are not evidence and should not be considered as such.
Presentation of Evidence
After the opening statements, the parties will present the evidence to the jury. The evidence consists of the testimony of the witnesses and the exhibits presented and admitted at the trial. These exhibits are also available to the jury for further examination during the jury deliberations. Since you will be asked to make your decisions based upon all of the evidence admitted during the trial, it is very important that you give the court your strict attention during the entire proceedings. The judge will also let you know whether you will be allowed to take notes during the trial.
Rulings by the Judge
During the trial, the judge may need to address certain issues of law with the lawyers outside the presence of the jury. As a result, the judge may occasionally ask the jurors to leave the courtroom to allow the lawyers to make their legal arguments. Remember that these periodic interruptions are important and necessary to ensure that the jury's verdict is based upon proper evidence, as determined by the judge under the Rules of Evidence.
Instructions to the Jury
At the close of all the evidence, the judge will give the jury detailed instructions that identify the issues to be determined and the applicable laws in the case. The Charge of the Court will include a series of questions that the jury must answer after considering all of the evidence admitted during the trial. Remember that while the judge determines issues of law, the jury must decide issues of fact and apply those facts to the law. Listen carefully to the instructions as they will guide your deliberations.
Closing arguments give the lawyers for the parties the opportunity to make their final plea to the jury to explain why they believe their client should prevail. The lawyers may summarize the evidence and to try to persuade the jury to accept their client's view of the case. While you should listen closely to the closing arguments, remember that what the lawyers say is not evidence. You should not make up your mind until you have heard all of the closing arguments and have had the opportunity to deliberate with your fellow jurors about the case.
Deliberations & Verdict of the Jury
At the conclusion of the trial, following closing arguments and jury instructions, the jurors will leave the courtroom and go to a jury room to begin deliberations. After reviewing the evidence at trial, the jury must decide how to answer the questions that were submitted to them by the court and return a verdict. The verdict must be based solely on the evidence presented by the parties, the Charge of the Court, and the rules of law provided by the judge.
During deliberations you may communicate with the judge concerning any matters that affect your deliberations including any physical discomfort, special needs, or questions regarding the evidence or the Charge of the Court. A bailiff or an officer of the court will deliver notes to the judge on behalf of the jurors.
Bailiff - A court attendant whose duties are to keep order in the courtroom, to carry out court instructions, to take care of your requests, and to see that you are comfortable and well informed.
Challenge for Cause - A challenge for cause is an objection made by a party to a juror that automatically disqualifies the juror from serving as a juror in that case, or which in the opinion of the court renders the juror unfit to sit on the jury. Upon such challenge the examination is not confined to the answers of the juror, but other evidence may be heard for or against the challenge.
Clerk of Court - Court official who keeps track of court files, records, and exhibits.
Court Reporter - A person who by shorthand or stenograph takes down testimony during court proceedings.
Counsel - One or more lawyers who represent a client
Defendant - In a civil case, the person being sued. In a criminal case, the person charged with having committed a crime.
Deliberations - The process by which a jury reaches a verdict, as by analyzing, discussing, and weighing the evidence.
Directed Verdict - A judgment entered on the order of trial judge who takes over the fact-finding role of the jury because the evidence is so compelling that only one decision can reasonably follow.
Exhibit - A document, record, or other tangible object formally introduced as evidence in court.
Felon - A person who has been convicted of a felony.
Foreperson - The juror who chairs the jury during deliberations and speaks for the jury in court by announcing the verdict. The presiding juror is usually elected by the jury at the start of deliberations.
Jury Pool - A panel of presumably qualified persons who have been summoned for jury duty and from among whom the jurors are to be chosen.
Jury Summons - A command sent out by the court, requiring a prospective jury to appear for jury duty.
Litigant - A party to a lawsuit.
Objection - The act of a party during a trial to call the court's attention to some matter or proceeding that may be improper.
Pending - Remaining undecided; awaiting decision.
Peremptory Challenge - A peremptory challenge is an objection made to a prospective juror without giving a specific reason for the objection. A specified number of peremptory challenges are automatically accepted by the court and are an important part of the process of obtaining a fair and impartial jury.
Perjury - The act of a person deliberately making material false or misleading statements while under oath.
Plaintiff - A person who brings a court action; the party who complains or sues in a personal action.
Poll - To ask how each member of a group individually voted. Typically, the court clerk will call the names of each individual juror to record his or her vote for the record.
Subpoena - An order commanding a person to appear before a court or other tribunal, subject to a penalty for failing to comply.
Testimony - Evidence given by a witness, under oath.
Verdict - A jury's finding or decision on the factual issues of a case. Or in a non-jury trial, a judge's resolution of the case.
Voir Dire - To speak the truth. The phrase denotes the preliminary examination the court may make of a prospective witness or juror to determine the qualifications of the witness or juror.
The information contained on this web site is not intended to take the place of the instructions given by the judge or the court concerning any aspect of jury service. In the event of any conflicts, the instructions and procedures given to you by the judge or the court should be followed.