Cases must be tried and determined on firmly established and
well-recognized public standards (rules) of right and wrong. So we call
ours a government of laws and not a government 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 arc permitted to argue, and what is permissible or not
permissible argument, etc.
On 2 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 for trial, the burden of proof, the credibility of witnesses, and the manner of weighing the testimony to be received. Again, when all tile evidence is in and the lawyers have made their arguments, tile court instructs the jury, stating the rules of law to guide the deliberations of the jurors.
Civil / Criminal Case Difference
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
In some trials, at the conclusion of all the
evidence and before the final instructions of the court to the jury,
tile 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.