Rules & Instructions for Jurors

Cases must be tried and determined on firmly established and well-recognized public standards (rules) of right and wrong. This is because our government is one of laws, not of men. Judges get the law by which they decide legal questions from several sources, such as federal and state constitutions, federal and state statutes, previous judicial decisions, and legal writings. Rules govern the way a case is to be tried in court. They prescribe what must be stated in the pleadings, in what order evidence may be presented, in what order lawyers are permitted to argue, and what is permissible or not permissible argument.

On two occasions during the trial, the court formally instructs the jury. When the jury has been sworn to try the case, and before the opening statements by the opposing parties, the court reads written instructions to the jury, outlining the issue(s) for trial, the burden of proof, the credibility of witnesses, and the manner of weighing the testimony to be received. Again, when all the evidence has been presented and the lawyers have made their arguments, the court instructs the jury, stating the rules of law that are to guide the deliberations of the jurors.

There is one very important difference between the deliberation of jurors in civil cases and in criminal cases. In civil cases, the court determines the law, and the jury determines the facts. The court instructs the jury on the law, and the jurors are bound by the law as given to them in the instructions of the court. In a criminal case, however, the jury has the right to determine the law, as well as the facts. This means the jury is to determine the law for itself. It does not mean that the jury can make, repeal, disregard, or ignore the law as it exists. The court's instructions are the best source of the applicable law.

In some trials, at the conclusion of all the evidence and before the final instructions of the court to the jury, the jurors will be excused from the courtroom while lawyers and the judge go over the instructions to be given to the jury. To some jurors, that time may appear to be long and wasted, but it is a very necessary and important part of the trial.

The information in this section has been provided courtesy of the Indiana State Bar Association.