When attending a criminal or civil trial, who or what can you expect to see?

The Participants

Judge: acts as a legal referee to ensure that proper trial procedure is followed and issues rulings on points of law. In a bench trial, the judge gives the verdict in place of a jury.

Jury: present if demanded in a civil case and present in a criminal case unless waived by the defendant.

Once a juror appears for jury duty, the juror is assigned a panel number. Panels are divided randomly into groups of 6 or 18. The juror then takes part in an orientation program explaining the trial process which includes watching an orientation videotape.

When a trial is ready to begin, the judge sends the deputy sheriff to the jury room to request potential jurors. The judge generally requests a group of 6, 12, 18 or 36 jurors. Jurors, chosen by panel number, are sent to the courtroom to be questioned by the judge and the attorneys to determine the juror’s ability to keep an open mind and be fair. Eventually a jury panel of 12 is selected. In some instances, two alternate jurors are also chosen. They are present throughout the trial but do not deliberate unless taking the place of an absent jury member. Any jurors not selected to sit on the courtroom panel return to the jury room and may be sent to a new courtroom to be questioned for another trial.

The Circuit Court operates on a one day or one trial system. This means that if a juror is not selected to serve on a jury by the end of the day, the juror is not required to return the next day. Jury service is considered fulfilled and the juror will not be called for at least another year. However, jurors chosen to sit on a panel in a particular courtroom for a particular trial are required to serve for the duration of that trial.

While the trial judge determines the evidence and instructs the jury as to the law, the jurors are responsible for deciding the facts, following the law and rendering a final decision.

Plaintiff: in a civil case, the person who files the complaint.

Defendant: person against whom a civil or criminal complaint is filed.

Prosecutor: in a criminal case, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office acts as the legal representative of the people of the State of Illinois in prosecuting the accused defendant. Certain cases may be prosecuted by municipal prosecutors.

Witness: gives testimony during the trial relating to the case.

Court Reporter: records every word spoken during the trial on a stenograph machine or a recording device.

Deputy Sheriff: keeps order in the court, guards defendants in criminal cases and maintains custody of the jury.

Clerk: swears in witnesses and maintains court orders and exhibits in a trial.