Welcome to Lake County, Ohio – General Division Courts – Petit Jury
A Note From The Judges
Welcome to jury service. Your service as a juror is extremely important. Our legal system could not function without you. Your help is needed to answer important questions of fact. The judge, attorneys, and clients need you to fairly determine facts which are in dispute. Our court staff will try to make you comfortable. After your service is completed, we would appreciate your comments and suggestions. Your dedication to our community is most appreciated. Please feel free to contact our offices if we may ever be of assistance.
In order to assist the court in providing the litigants with a fair trial, it is important that you refrain from conducting any research which might reveal any information about any case pending before the court, or any of the parties involved in any case. Therefore, you should avoid any attempts to learn which cases may be called for trial during your jury service, or anything about the parties, lawyers or issues involved in those cases. Even research on sites such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Facebook, or blogs, which may seem completely harmless, may lead you to information which is incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise inappropriate for your consideration as a prospective juror. The fair resolution of disputes in our system requires that jurors make decisions based on information presented by the parties at trial, rather than on information that has not been subjected to scrutiny for reliability and relevance.
The Jury System
Jury service is an important responsibility. You are directly involved in making our justice system work. The right to a jury trial means the right to be judged by one’s fellow citizens. The jury system dates back to ancient times. Long before the birth of Christ, the Greeks and Romans followed a jury system. When America was settled, the concept of a jury trial was already a major part of our legal system. The Declaration of Independence cites the “denial of a trial by jury” as one of the major reasons for colonial independence. The right to a jury trial is so important that it is guaranteed in the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions. It is one of our most cherished rights.
Juror Duties: In the Courtroom
As a juror, you, along with the other jurors, solely decide the facts in the case you hear. You decide whom to believe or not to believe. You determine the weight to be given to all the evidence. The judge will provide the law to you which you will then apply to the facts you find to be true. You determine the facts from only the evidence presented in court. Errors in law can be corrected by the trial judge, or by the appeals court, but a jury’s error of fact may never be corrected.
Evidence comes only from what occurs in the courtroom. Evidence can be from the testimony of witnesses, exhibits admitted for your review, and from facts agreed upon by both sides. The statements of the lawyers are not evidence. You may believe all, part, or none of a witness’s testimony. The quality and not the quantity of the evidence is most important. Your duty is to listen to all evidence with an open mind. Do not form any opinion about the case until you have heard all the evidence. You must take your duty as a juror very seriously. It is an important responsibility.
Juror Duties: Outside Court
While a case is being tried, as a juror you must not discuss the case among yourselves or with anyone else. This rule applies while you are at court, during breaks, and even at home. You must not let anyone discuss the case with you. You may not speak to the lawyers, witnesses or parties. You may not mingle with lawyers or witnesses during a recess, nor accept favors such as a ride home from witnesses, parties or counsel. If any interested party approaches you or other jurors, immediately report this communication to the judge or bailiff. Each juror must retain impartiality. Once your jury service is concluded, you may freely discuss the case with anyone you choose. You may not investigate or obtain any information whatsoever about the case or any issue raise in the case outside of the courtroom during trial.
Selecting a Jury
Jurors are selected for a particular case by a process known as voir dire. This means to “speak the truth.” This is done by bringing the jurors to the courtroom where you will be asked some questions. The goal is to select jurors who will be fair, impartial, and open-minded. Jurors may be excused from service in two ways:
Challenge for Cause: Jurors may be excused for a particular reason. This could be for illness. It may also occur when a juror might have a difficult time being fair in a particular case. An example would be where a juror is related to one of the parties involved in the case.
Peremptory Challenge: Each side to the case has the right to excuse a certain number of jurors without giving a reason. If you are excused, please do not take it personally.
The fee which you receive pays little more than out-of-pocket expense; it does not reflect the value of the service you perform.
Types of Cases
Jurors normally hear one of two types of cases: one is a civil lawsuit and the other is a criminal proceeding.
Most often this type of case involves one side filing a lawsuit against the other side of the case. Normally the suit asks for money damages. Civil lawsuits include cases involving auto accidents, medical malpractice, breach of contract, and many other matters.
The side filing the lawsuit is usually called the plaintiff. The side being sued is usually called the defendant. Calling each side by plaintiff and defendant does not mean one side is right and the other side is wrong.
When a party files a civil lawsuit or asserts a claim, that party must prove the issues relating to the claim by the required burden of proof.
Burden of Proof: In a civil lawsuit, the person filing the suit must normally prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence. The term “preponderance of the evidence” means the greater weight of the evidence. If insufficient proof is offered, then the person cannot recover.
A criminal case is different from a civil lawsuit. In a criminal case, the State of Ohio claims that the person (the defendant) has committed a crime. In common pleas court, a defendant is notified of the charge by receiving a document called an indictment. The county prosecutor is a public official who represents the State of Ohio.
This is a document which contains the allegations involving the criminal charge. The Ohio legislature determines what acts shall constitute a criminal offense. Crimes are listed in the Ohio Revised Code. Examples would be robbery, theft and burglary.
In most criminal cases, the jury is concerned only with whether a crime has been committed and whether the defendant on trial committed that crime. The jury is not involved in sentencing and punishment. The judge determines all sentences based on the legislature’s guidelines.
Presumption of Innocence: The fact that a person is charged with a crime does not mean he or she is guilty. By law, a defendant is presumed innocent. A person is to be found guilty only if that person’s guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecuting attorney must prove every element of an alleged crime beyond a “reasonable doubt.”
In both a civil lawsuit or criminal proceeding, the end result is for the jury to deliberate and reach a verdict. After the evidence is submitted and argued, the judge will provide detailed instructions and definitions to you concerning the law for the particular case in which you are serving as a juror. Your oath as a juror requires you to accept the law as given to you by the judge. You will then deliberate with only your fellow jurors present to reach a verdict.
Civil Lawsuit Verdict: The verdict in a civil case is typically either for the plaintiff or defendant, as is proven by the evidence. The verdict requires a vote of at least three-fourths of the jury (six of eight).
Criminal Proceeding Verdict: The verdict in a criminal case is either “guilty” or “not guilty.” The verdict requires a unanimous vote of the jury (twelve of twelve).
As you embark upon your jury service, you were provided a questionnaire. These questions are not meant to pry into your personal life, but will aid the litigants in selecting a jury and shorten the voir dire.
TRIAL PROCEDURE OUTLINE
Jury Questioning and Selection (Voir Dire)
Jury Seating: 8 Civil; 12 Criminal
One or more alternate jurors may be seated
Challenge for Cause – Peremptory Challenge
Overview of what the evidence will be; they are not evidence
Presentation of Evidence
Party who has burden of proof normally goes first
Burden of Proof
Civil Cases: Usually prove case by a
preponderance of the evidence
Criminal Cases: State must prove guilt
beyond a reasonable doubt
Summary of the evidence; they are not evidence
Jury Charge By Judge (may precede Final Arguments)
Instructions of law
Select foreperson: Only jurors may be present
Verdict read in open court
At least 6 of 8 Jurors sign verdict (Civil)
All 12 Jurors sign verdict (Criminal)
USEFUL COURT TERMS
Direct Examination: Questions a lawyer asks of a witness normally called by the lawyer to testify on behalf of the lawyer’s client.
Cross Examination: After a witness testifies on direct examination, the other side has a right of cross-examination. This is permitted to “test” the witness’s direct testimony.
Objections: Every trial has objections made by the lawyers as to certain questions and evidence. Objections are based on claims that the evidence is not admissible for some legal reason. The judge rules upon all objections.
Objection Sustained: This means the objection is correct and the question or evidence is not proper. You should not guess on what the answer or evidence may have been if the question had been answered.
Motion to Strike: Sometimes evidence comes in which is not legally proper. When a judge grants a motion to strike, you must disregard the evidence involved.
Objection Overruled: This means the objection to the question or answer is not proper. The evidence, therefore, is admitted for your consideration.
Side Bar Conference: During almost every trial, issues arise concerning legal matters and other procedural matters. To keep the jury impartial, these are often handled at the judge’s bench in what is called a side-bar conference.
Depositions: These are statements obtained under oath of a witness in a case prior to the trial. The testimony is then typed and it can often be used at trial for various purposes. Some depositions are taken of a witness in advance of the trial and are used in lieu of that witness’s appearance during a trial. This testimony is then read or sometimes played on videotape. The testimony is to be considered exactly as if the witness had appeared live in the courtroom.
Exhibits: These are the tangible items of evidence. If admitted by the judge, you will take these to the jury room. These include photographs, medical records, weapons, and other tangible items of evidence.
Deliberation: At the conclusion of the case, after the judge provides you with your instructions, you will then deliberate. Only the jurors are present during the deliberations. Deliberations involve reviewing the evidence and applying the instructions of law to arrive at a verdict.
Preponderance of the Evidence: Preponderance of the evidence is the greater weight of the evidence; that is, evidence that you believe because it outweighs or overbalances in your mind the evidence opposed to it. A preponderance means evidence that is more probable, more persuasive, or of greater probative value. It is the quality of the evidence that must be weighed. Quality may, or may not, be identical with quantity. In determining whether an issue has been proved by a preponderance of the evidence, you should consider all of the evidence, regardless of who produced it. If the weight of the evidence is equally balanced, or if you are unable to determine which side of an issue has the preponderance, the party who has the burden of proof has not established such issue by a preponderance of the evidence.
Reasonable Doubt (For Criminal Cases Only): Reasonable doubt is present when, after you have carefully considered and compared all the evidence, you cannot say you are firmly convinced of the truth of the charge. Reasonable doubt is a doubt based on reason and common sense. Reasonable doubt is not mere possible doubt, because everything relating to human affairs or depending on moral evidence is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof of such character that an ordinary person would be willing to rely and act upon it in the most important of his or her own affairs.
Office numbers for the General Division judges:
- Judge Jeffrey W. Ruple (440) 350-2100
- Judge Vincent A. Culotta (440) 350-2736
- Judge John P. O’Donnell (440) 350-2662
- Judge Patrick J. Condon (440) 350-2720