The United States and California constitutions provide for everyone to have the right to a trial by a jury of their peers. This is true for all criminal actions and most civil actions. A trial takes place in a courthouse.
There are federal and state courts. A judge runs the trial and acts as a referee, deciding issues of law and what evidence may be heard by the jury. She or he runs the trial and controls when and how the trial proceeds. A jury decides issues of fact. The difference between an issue of law and fact can be explained using basketball as an analogy.
The law is that when you shoot from outside the key and make a basket, it is three points. That is an issue of law; under what conditions three points are awarded. A judge would state what the law is and instruct a jury that if it finds that the shot was made outside the key, the jury should award three points.
The jury is the fact finder. Members would watch the game or replay (the evidence) and then deliberate (discuss) what they think the evidence showed as to whether the shot was made inside or outside of the key. The jury then arrives at a decision called a verdict. In state court, there are usually 12 jurors. Only three-fourths of them have to agree to reach a verdict in a civil case. In federal court, there are usually fewer jurors, such as six. In federal court, you must obtain a unanimous verdict (all jurors must agree).
The judge makes rulings on evidence. A lawyer, believing that the other side is seeking to introduce evidence that is not reliable or should otherwise be prohibited from introduction to the jury, may object, thereby asking a judge to block that evidence from being heard or seen by the jury.
A judge rules on those objections, either sustaining the objection (upholding it and blocking the evidence) or overruling it and allowing the evidence to “come in” and be presented to the jury. A judge is supposed to follow the rules of evidence enacted by the Legislature through various codes such as the Evidence Code and the Code of Civil Procedure.
If a person believes that he or she did not receive a fair trial, that a judge made an error of law, or that the evidence did not support the verdict, that person can file an appeal with an appellate court. The appellate court has no jury.
It does not decide matters of fact (generally), but deals only with matters of law, reviewing lower court rulings to see if they conform to established legal principles. If the appellate court agrees with the lower court, the decision is affirmed. If the appellate court disagrees, then the ruling or verdict is overturned and the matter is remanded, sent back, to the trial court for further proceedings and/or retrial.
Trials are expensive, time-consuming processes that are often emotionally draining for both sides. Juries, judges and verdicts are unpredictable. That is why, when possible, settlement rather than trial is often preferred by many. The Dolan Law Firm lawyers have the highest rating as trial lawyers and have consistently produced some of the highest verdicts and settlements in California for their clients.
Contact the Dolan Law Firm for a free case evaluation by calling 888-452-4752 or emailing us.