Jury trials in depth

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The judge’s opening remarks

The judge usually makes opening remarks at the beginning of the trial. The judge talks about the trial and may also describe their own role in a jury trial. An important part of the judge’s role is to explain the law to you and help you understand the evidence that’s presented to the court.

The judge also makes sure the trial is fair and follows the law. At the end of the trial, the judge will summarise the evidence before you begin to deliberate (decide on a verdict).

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The prosecution's case

The prosecution makes their argument first. They begin with an opening statement in which they tell you why the defendant has been brought to trial. They may also explain the kinds of evidence they’ll give to prove that the defendant is guilty.

After this opening statement, the prosecution’s witnesses are called to testify one by one. In each instance, the prosecution questions the witness first. Then the defence has a chance to question (cross-examine) the witness. Sometimes the witness is questioned again (re-examined) by the prosecution. The judge may question the witness at any time.

Sometimes you can ask questions too. However, you should save these until the prosecution, defence and judge have all examined the witness. You can then write your question down and pass it to the foreperson to give to the judge. The judge decides if they will ask the witness your question.

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The defence’s case

After the prosecution has presented all their evidence, the defence presents their case in the same way. They may or may not present evidence. The defence questions each witness first. The prosecution is then allowed to cross-examine the witness, who may in turn be re-examined by the defence. The judge and jury can ask questions, as they did during the prosecution phase.

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Closing speeches and summing up

When all the evidence has been presented, the prosecution and defence have the option of making a closing speech before the court.

After the closing speeches, the judge sums up (summarises) the case and describes how the law applies to it. The judge describes and explains the case that the prosecution and defence have presented. The judge gives information that may help you decide on your verdict. You must accept what the judge says about the law. However, it’s for you to decide what the evidence has or hasn’t proven.

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Deliberations in the jury room

After the judge has summed up the case, you'll be directed to the jury room to decide your verdict. In most trials, the jury is allowed to go home at the end of each day even if they haven’t reached a verdict. They return the following morning to continue their deliberation. On rare occasions, the judge might tell you that you’ve been ‘sequestered’ as a jury. This means you’ll have to stay together until you decide on a verdict. If you need more than one day to decide on a verdict, the court will provide you with accommodation and other necessities. Juries are sequestered only in serious or unusual cases.

The jury room is private. Only jurors and court staff are allowed in. You’re not allowed to talk with anyone outside the jury room while you deliberate. If you need to communicate with anyone outside, you must give the court staff a message to pass on.

You’re expected to decide on a verdict by discussing the case and the evidence with the other jurors. Court exhibits may be provided to help with this. (Court exhibits are pieces of physical evidence that have been presented in the trial. They mustn’t be tampered with, changed, marked, or damaged.)

Although the jury discusses the trial as a group, it’s important that you decide for yourself whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. You might not agree with the opinions of other jurors, but you need to discuss the evidence sensibly and listen to what the other jurors say. You and the other jurors must tell the court staff if you’re being pressured into deciding on a verdict that you don’t believe in.

You’re free to change your mind if you become sure that your earlier thinking was wrong. In fact, it’s your duty to do so. Don’t change your mind, though, if you firmly believe you’re right but other jurors disagree. Don’t change your mind simply to let the jury agree on a verdict.

If you have a question about the law or the evidence while you’re deliberating, write it down and give it to your foreperson to give to the court attendant. They’ll hand your question to the judge.

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The verdict

In New Zealand, the jury must try to reach a unanimous verdict where everyone agrees that the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

If you and the other jury members have reached a unanimous verdict, the foreperson tells the court attendant. The jury returns to the jury box, and the defendant is brought back into court. The court registrar asks the foreperson whether the whole jury has agreed on a verdict. The court registrar then asks the foreperson whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty on each of the charges against the defendant. The court registrar asks whether the jury all agree. You must show that you agree by saying ‘yes’.

If the jury can’t reach a unanimous verdict after a reasonable time, the judge may accept a majority verdict:

  • In criminal cases, this means one juror can disagree.
  • In civil cases, one-quarter of the jury can disagree.

If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant is allowed to leave.

If the verdict is guilty, the judge usually sets a date for sentencing. If the judge hasn’t set a date but you want to attend the sentencing, you can contact court staff about the details later.

If the jury can’t reach a unanimous verdict or a majority verdict, the judge may declare a hung jury and there will be a new trial with a new panel of jurors.

At the end of the trial, you’ll be thanked for your service. Your jury service might be finished now, or you may be asked to come back the next day to take part in the jury selection process for another trial.

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