Author: James Strawn

Jurisdiction and Venue

From: ABA

The plaintiff’s lawyer must decide where to file the case. A court has no authority to decide a case unless it has jurisdiction over the person or property involved. To have jurisdiction, a court must have authority over the subject matter of the case and

  • the court must be able to exercise control over the defendant,
  • or the property involved must be located in the area under the court’s control.

The extent of the court’s control over persons and property is set by law.

Certain actions are transitory . They can be brought wherever the defendant may be found and served with a summons, and where the jurisdiction has sufficient contact with one of the parties and the incident that gave rise to the suit. An example would be a lawsuit against a business–it would probably be sufficient to file suit in any county in which the business has an operation, and not necessary to file suit in the county where it its headquartered.

Other actions – such as foreclosing on a piece of property – are local. They can be brought only in the county where the subject of the suit is located.

Venue refers to the county or district…Click here for FULL article.

Civil Case

The Process of Civil Cases

From: US Courts

A federal civil case involves a legal dispute between two or more parties. A civil action begins when a party to a dispute files a complaint, and pays a filing fee required by statute. A plaintiff who is unable to pay the fee may file a request to proceed in forma pauperis. If the request is granted, the fee is waived.

The Process

To begin a civil lawsuit in federal court, the plaintiff files a complaint with the court and “serves” a copy of the complaint on the defendant. The complaint describes the plaintiff’s damages or injury, explains how the defendant caused the harm, shows that the court has jurisdiction, and asks the court to order relief. A plaintiff may seek money to compensate for the damages, or may ask the court to order the defendant to stop the conduct that is causing the harm. The court may also order other types of relief, such as a declaration of the legal rights of the plaintiff in a particular situation.

Case Preparation

There may be “discovery,” where the litigants must provide information to each other about the case, such as the identity of witnesses and copies of any documents related to the case. The purpose of discovery is to prepare for trial by requiring the litigants to assemble their evidence and prepare to call witnesses. Each side also may file requests, or “motions,” with the court seeking rulings on the discovery of evidence, or on the procedures to be followed at trial.

Discovery may include a deposition, requiring a witness to answer questions about the case before the trial. The witness answers questions from the lawyer under oath, in the presence of a court reporter, who produces a word-for-word account called a transcript.

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Civil Case

Must All Jury Verdicts Be Unanimous?

From: Find Law

After both sides in a trial present all of their evidence, the jury goes to a private room with all the evidence and deliberates. The jury then votes on a verdict and presents it to the court. If you’ve seen television shows or movies that involve the jury process, you may have noticed that, at least some of the time, the jury must be unanimous in its verdict. At the same time, you may have also wondered when unanimous verdicts are required and what happens if a verdict cannot be reached.

Federal Court Jury Verdicts: Must be Unanimous

There are two court systems in the United States: federal and state courts. Each covers different types of cases. In the federal system, whether the trial is criminal or civil, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict.

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How Jury Deliberations Work

From: ABA

After receiving the instructions and hearing the final arguments, the jury retires to the jury room to begin deliberating. In most states the first order of business is to elect one of the jurors as the foreperson or presiding juror. This person’s role is to preside over discussions and votes of the jurors, and often to deliver the verdict. The bailiff’s job is to ensure that no one communicates with the jury during deliberations.

In some states, the jury may take the exhibits introduced into the record and the judge’s instructions to the jury room. Sometimes the jury will have a question about the evidence or the judge’s instructions. If this happens, the jury will give a note to the bailiff to take to the judge. The judge may respond to the note, or may call the jury back into the courtroom for further instructions or to have portions of the transcript read to them. Of course, any communication between the judge and jury should be in the presence of lawyers for each side or with their knowledge.

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Why Trial by Jury is Usually a Better Choice than a Bench Trial

From: HG

Ever wonder the difference between a jury trial and a bench trial?

This information from HG is helpful.

Why One Might Choose a Bench Trial

A case decided by a judge without the assistance of a jury is often referred to as a “bench trial.” In bench trials, the judge takes on two roles: that of the referee who rules on the admissibility of evidence and decides questions of law, and that of the finder of fact who ultimately determines how much weight to give the testimony of different witnesses and the credibility of the evidence. Some cases must be handled by a judge in a bench trial.

These include cases that present only questions of law or equity (such as divorces, child custody cases, foreclosures, actions for permanent injunctions, and others). Cases that allow the option of a trial by jury usually include those in which the ultimate goal is the payment of money to compensate for injuries or damages.

Some litigators and parties might prefer bench trials if they have a particularly complicated case that they believe may confuse a jury. Bench trials may also be an excellent option for largely unliked parties (such as homeowners associations, insurance companies, or unpopular political organizations). Bench trials tend to have outcomes more favorable to defendants, thus defense attorneys (particularly in insurance defense) often recommend bench trials to their clients to avoid the enormous verdicts juries have sometimes granted to sympathetic injury victims.

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Selecting the Jury

From: American Bar Association

Juries of six to twelve persons are selected from the jury pool. The size of jury varies from state to state and depends to some extent on the type of case at trial.

  • In civil cases, especially in courts of limited jurisdiction, the standard size in many jurisdictions is becoming six, which can be increased by stipulation of both parties.
  • In misdemeanor cases there are sometimes fewer than twelve jurors, though in serious criminal cases twelve jurors are generally required.
  • The old requirement that juries be unanimous is also changing. In misdemeanor and civil cases particularly, states often provide for verdicts based on the agreement of three-fourths or five-sixths of the jurors.

Alternate jurors are selected in some cases to take the place of jurors who may become ill during the trial. Alternate jurors hear the evidence just as the other jurors do, but they don’t participate in the deliberations unless they replace an original juror.

In many jurisdictions, jury selection begins with the court clerk’s calling twelve people on the jury list and asking them to take a place in the jury box. The judge usually makes a brief statement explaining what kind of case is to be tried and inquiring whether there is any reason the potential jurors cannot serve. The judge or the lawyers then ask them questions as to whether they have any knowledge of the case or have had specific experiences that might cause them to be biased or unfair. This questioning of the potential jurors is known as voir dire (to speak the truth).

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If Jurors Cannot Agree, Will the Judge Force Them to Reach a Verdict?

From: Nolo


It’s not uncommon for a criminal jury to be close to a verdict, but to have a few hold-outs. If, after the prosecution and defense have rested their cases and made their closing arguments, the jurors’ deliberations have stalled, a judge might step in. Judges can’t force juries to reach verdicts, but they can apply a little pressure when the jury has deliberated and reported back that it’s at an impasse.

When a jury claims that it can’t reach a verdict, a judge may employ the “dynamite charge,” intended to blast the jurors out of their deadlock. It’s an instruction that urges the jurors to try to come to a verdict; it usually tells them to examine the case’s issues and reconsider their opinions and those of other jurors. But judges must be careful not to go too far—appeals courts will overturn convictions where judges have coerced juries into verdicts.

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Why Jury Trials are Important to a Democratic Society

A Q & A with

1. The American jury trial is a constitutional right. The founding fathers believed
that the right to be tried by a jury of your peers was so important that it merited inclusion in
the highest law of the land. Amendments 6 and 7 of the Bill of Rights contain this right:
Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district
wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the
nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses
in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Amendment VII
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and
no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

2. The jury trial is a vital part of America’s system of checks and balances.
“Checks and balances” means that the judicial branch of government is equal to the other two
branches (executive and legislative) and the courts can overturn laws or acts of government
that violate constitutional rights. Our system of checks and balances requires a strong judicial
branch. A strong judicial branch requires a healthy jury trial option. Jury service is your chance
to have a voice in the judicial branch of government.

3. The founding fathers included jury trials in the constitution because
jury trials prevent tyranny. The definition of tyranny is oppressive power exerted by
the government. Tyranny also exists when absolute power is vested in a single ruler. Jury trials
are the opposite of tyranny because the citizens on the jury are given the absolute power to
make the final decision.

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The Judge and The Jury

From: Judicial Learning Center

There are many rules that dictate how things will occur in the courtroom before and during a federal trial.  These rules and procedures help to make sure every court proceeding is fair.  This consistent, predictable system also helps us to have confidence in the rulings of the judge and jury.  In federal court, the jury decides the verdict.  It’s the judge’s job to act as referee, ruling on issues of law before and during the trial.  Federal judges keep up to date on many laws and rules such as: Federal Laws, Case Laws, State Laws and Federal Rulings.

History of the Jury

The U.S. Constitution provides for trial by jury in most situations.  Therefore, even though the judge presides over the activities in the courtroom and rules on issues of law, the decisions about facts are made by ordinary, average citizens.  The jury system is not an American invention.  Trial by jury and the grand jury existed elsewhere before our states were even colonies.

The Grand Jury

The grand jury is different from the trial jury.  The 5th Amendment states that no one can be indicted for serious crimes without first having a group of citizens, a grand jury, agree there is enough evidence to formally bring charges.  Even though an accused person is considered innocent until found guilty at a trial, simply being accused of a crime (indicted) is enough to disrupt one’s life and reputation.  The grand jury is used to ensure prosecuting attorneys do not make reckless decisions when charging someone with a serious crime.

Petit Jury

Trial jurors are sometimes called petit jurors.  Petit jurors are also average citizens who are called upon to participate in the trial process.  Before someone accused of a crime can be put in prison, they need to be found guilty by a group of people from the community who, despite their varied background and experiences, can come to agreement on the facts in the case.  Though trial by jury is an important right in America, a criminal defendant can waive this right and have the case decided by a Judge alone.  If that happens, it is called a bench trial.  In the 7th Amendment, the Bill of Rights also guarantees you the right to jury trial for civil matters.

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diverse jury of jurors sitting in a jury

Why Jury Diversity Matters

From: Minnesota Public Radio

By: Bob Collins

It was a short first day in the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez, charged in the killing of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last summer. The jury pool of about 50 people is getting the afternoon off to finish questionnaires about their potential as jurors.

There’s no question on it asking the jurors their race; that’s illegal in Minnesota and elsewhere. So reporters were left today to look at individuals and try to figure out race and ethnicity.

Various reports from the courtroom said a half dozen of the 50 people in the first jury pool appeared to be African-American; another handful appeared to be people of color. For comparison sake, the demographic makeup of Ramsey County is 70 percent of the population is white, and in Hennepin County, 75 percent of the population is white.

The makeup of the jury will be inspected closely, of course, because of allegations that race is at the heart of many shootings in which African-Americans end up dead at the hands of police.

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