Even DC injury lawyers recognize that it’s not an uncommon thought to wonder how jurors know what to do during a court case. After all, most of the time, a juror will not have law experience. What a lot of people may not realize is that in every case that involves a jury, the judge will issue a set of rules and guidelines for the jurors called the jury instruction. The jury instruction is intended to help jurors throughout the case so that they can make a knowledgeable conclusion at the end of the trial.
Take a look at this typical jury instruction from a civil court in Washington D.C. about evidence in a case. This could be used in many different cases such as a DC auto accident case or a Maryland slip and fall accident.
Evidence in the Case (D.C. Std. Civ. Jury Instr. No. 2-1)
You may consider only the evidence admitted in the case. The evidence consists of the sworn testimony of witnesses, exhibits admitted into evidence [, and facts stipulated to by the parties]. [You may consider any facts to which the parties have stipulated or agreed to be undisputed].
Statements and arguments of the lawyers are not evidence. They are intended only to help you understand the evidence. Similarly, the questions of the lawyers are not evidence.
If anyone describes the evidence you have heard differently from the way you remember it, it is your memory that should control during your deliberations.
You must rely on your own recollection of the testimony and on any notes you may have taken during the trial. [Although the court reporter has been transcribing the trial, a transcript will not be available for you to review during your deliberations.]
What does it mean?
Although jury instructions like the one above are supposed to make things clearer and easier on the juror, they can often be confusing, regardless of whether they are for a DC medical malpractice or a Virginia auto accident. After all, they may use legal language you are unfamiliar with or describe events in a trial you don’t know about.
Let’s break it down.
This jury instruction essentially outlines what you should and shouldn’t consider as evidence. You are likely going to be bombarded with alleged facts from both sides, which at times can be overwhelming. What can you take as the truth? Which facts should you allow to influence your decision?
What is evidence?
According to this jury instruction, there are very specific things that qualify as evidence. Here’s what you should consider as evidence, according to experienced attorneys including DC auto accident lawyers:
Sworn Testimony of Witnesses: That means anything a witness says on the stand can be used as evidence. After all, every witness takes an oath before taking the stand that they will say the truth and nothing but the truth (although, as we know, this is not always the case).
Exhibits Admitted into Evidence: Once an exhibit has been marked as evidence, it too, can used. This can be a physical object or something that documents a certain part of the crime being considered.
Agreed Upon Facts: If both parties agree there are facts that are undisputed, these facts should not be questioned.
What is not evidence?
The simple answer is that anything that does not fall under the categories of sworn witness testimonies, admitted exhibits, and agreed upon facts should not be considered evidence.
DC injury attorneys can be very convincing (after all, it’s their job). What is is important to remember, however compelling they may be, a lawyer’s statements are not evidence. Lawyers will argue all sorts of narratives to help their clients and piece together the evidence, but that does not mean these stories should be taken as evidence.
Along the same lines, any questions asked by the lawyers should not be taken as evidence. Although attorneys are not supposed to ask leading questions, it is not uncommon to hear a few slip in throughout the trial. What this means is that occasionally a counsel may ask a question that suggests a “fact.”
For example, say you are a juror on a DC personal injury case where one party believes that their back pain is a result of medical negligence from a doctor. The counsel arguing for the supposed victim could ask a question to the doctor like “have you ever been careless before in your medical practice?”
This question assumes that the doctor was careless in the case. Usually with questions like these, an opposing counsel will object and the judge will strike down the question. However, when these questions are admitted, it is important not to take anything from them as evidence.
That being said, if the doctor responded “yes, I have been careless with my medical practice before,” then you can take that testimony as evidence in the case.
Here’s the big take away, the question the attorney asked cannot be taken as evidence, but if the witness answers the question, then their response can be used as evidence.
What if somebody talks about evidence differently than I remember?
Last, but certainly not least, make sure you evaluate the evidence based on what you remember, not how a DC injury attorney or witness may describe it. A lot of the time, opposing parties want to paint the evidence in a certain light to favor their narrative which can be confusing. Make sure to stick to what you remember and don’t let one side create bias in your analysis of the case.
Please do not rely on any above statements as legal advice. You should always seek the advice of a licensed lawyer in order to assist you.