Differences Between the Roles of Judges and Juries
In any criminal prosecution, the accused has the right to a trial by an impartial jury. However, we also know that judges hear and try cases, and make important decisions. It can be confusing when people read cases and hear both about what judges do, and then read verdicts about what juries do. What is the role of a judge and a jury in a personal injury case?
The Right to a Jury
There is no right to a jury in every kind of case. For example, there are no juries in family law cases, foreclosures, or evictions. In some cases (including in personal injury cases) the right to a jury can be waived by agreement or contract.
Most every personal injury case provides the right to a jury, making the interplay between judge and jury very important.
What is Determined by a Judge
Pre-trial motions made before the actual trial are determined by a judge. For example, the parties may have disputes over what kind of documentation must be provided to the other side. They may have arguments about who will sit for a deposition, when depositions will happen, and what can or cannot be asked at deposition.
Judges determine the rules of the trial, and act as a gatekeeper as to what a jury can and cannot hear or see, both before, and during the actual trial. Parties may argue over what expert witnesses are permitted to say, or what kind of arguments can and cannot be made at trial. These are all determined by a judge.
State statutes may further define a judge’s authority. For example, Florida’s punitive damages statute allows a judge to determine whether a jury will get to consider such damages.
Laws also give judges the right to end a case even before a jury gets the case. For example, in summary judgment motions, a judge may decide that the facts are so clear, that there is nothing in dispute for a jury to hear. Also, during trial, a party may have said or done something so egregious, that the judge may declare a mistrial.
The Role of The Jury
Juries determine disputed facts, based on the evidence presented to them by the attorneys. Juries will determine who is ultimately at fault for an accident, whether the alleged injuries are causally related to the accident, and what are the damages. The jury determines the credibility of the witnesses’ testimony and validity of documentary evidence.
The judge approves and reads the instructions that a jury uses to make their decision. These instructions are like a roadmap that tells a jury what questions they must answer or what facts they must resolve, and gives them the legal guidelines in which to answer the questions.
We can help you navigate your personal injury case. Contact the West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys at Celeste Law Firm with any questions you may have if you or a family member are injured in any type of accident.