The U.S. and Utah Constitution both guarantee the right to a trial by jury, but what does that actually mean? Black’s Law Dictionary defines a ‘jury’ as “a certain number of [people], selected according to law, and sworn to inquire of certain matters of fact, and declare the truth upon evidence to be laid before them.” This temporary selection comes among the citizens of that local area. Utah’s Code simply defines it as “a body of persons temporarily selected from the citizens of a particular county invested with the power to present and indict a person for a public offense or to try a question of fact.”
The jury selection process took several hours as each juror answered several questions to determine bias and ability for impartiality.
Depew v. Sullivan gives a good example of the importance of jury selection. As a result of an accident, Mr. Depew (plaintiff) sued Mr. Sullivan (defendant) for his injuries. The defendant then left on a two-year mission for the L.D.S. church. The plaintiff’s attorney wanted to ask the potential jury members if they had children on missions to avoid a potential bias toward the defendant. The judge denied this request feeling that it focused on religion, something not allowed according to Utah’s Laws. After completely losing the case, the plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court citing this as one of the reasons. The Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiff saying that the question did not focus on a juror’s religion, but just on missions which could be for any church.
Other Important Information
A jury is composed of a different number of people depending on the type of case. Criminal cases typically have a twelve person jury that must decide unanimously. Typically eight people serve on a civil case at law, with some exceptions, that only needs a majority to reach a decision. A small claims case does not have a jury. A trial starts with the selection of a jury. Utah’s Code outlines the qualifications to serve on a jury. The judge will require each juror to fill out a card with basic information regarding work, family, etc. The prospective jurors will be questioned under oath to ascertain that the jury that will be formed will be fair and impartial. The court will determine:
- if they know any of the people involved in the case,
- how much they know about the case already from news sources,
- their involvement with and beliefs about personal injury cases, including awarding people money for damages.
The list of questions that jurors need to answer is quite long. However, the purpose is to determine the commitment and ability of the jurors to be impartial and fair. This is to make sure also that the compensation that will be awarded, if there is any, is a result of a sound and prejudice-free decision. At the end of a trial, the judge will instruct the jury on what they must do to come to a final decision. Both sides can suggest specific things to include in these instructions, but the judge must approve them. Utah’s Court page gives a model for jury instructions for civil cases. For more information on Utah’s jury procedures, see Utah’s Code or Utah’s Court page. For an example of how a case will proceed with all of the specifics that the jury will be a part of see Utah Bar’s page. Our website has a list of things not to mention before a jury.
Legal Glossary brought to you by Christensen & Hymas – Utah Personal Injury Attorneys