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).

The prosecution's case

The prosecution begins their case with an opening statement in which they tell you what the defendant has been charged with. They may also explain the kinds of evidence they’ll give to prove that the defendant is guilty.

The defence may make a brief opening statement to identify the issues in the trial.

Then 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.

As a juror, 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.

The defence's case

After the prosecution has presented all their evidence, the defence may or may not present evidence. If they do intend to call witnesses, the defence may present an opening statement. The defence will then question 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 can during the prosecution phase.

Closing addresses and summing up

When all the evidence has been presented, the prosecution and defence will make closing statements to the jury.

After the closing statements, the judge summarises the case and describes how the law applies to it. The judge describes and explains the evidence that the prosecution and defence have presented. The judge will then direct you on the issues you’ll need to consider when deciding on your verdict. The judge will also direct you on the law. You must accept what the judge says about the law. However, it’s for you to decide what the facts are based on the evidence you’ve heard in court.

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. You can go home at the end of each day even if you haven’t reached a verdict. You must return the following morning to continue your 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 rarely sequestered.

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 interfered with, changed, marked, damaged or removed from the court.)

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.

The verdict

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the jury must try to reach a unanimous verdict. This means that everyone on the jury 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’ or nodding.

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 can leave.

If the verdict is guilty, the judge usually sets a date for sentencing. Before being sentenced, the defendant will either be remanded in custody, remanded on bail or be released.

 If the judge hasn’t set a date and 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’. When this happens, there may 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.

Example of a court room

Criminal court courtroom

Key to people shown in the picture

  1. Witness or victim
  2. Support person
  3. Court victim advisor
  4. Defendant
  5. Prosecutor
  6. Defence lawyer
  7. Judge
  8. Registrar
  9. Jury
  10. Media
  11. Prisoner’s escort
  12. Public gallery