Civil Court Rules and Jury Charges

Kenneth Vercammen & Associates, P.C.
2053 Woodbridge Avenue - Edison, NJ 08817

Friday, April 27, 2007


[To be given after the jury is sworn in but before the openings.]


A. Role of Jury, Court and Attorneys

B. Prohibition Against Discussing the Case

C. Jurors Not to Visit the Accident Scene or Do Investigations

D. Note-Taking Prohibited/Note-Taking Permitted (11/98)

E. Outline of Order of Events

F. Jury of Six (11/98)

G. Settling Defendants

H. Scheduling

I. Cell Phone, Pager and other Wireless Communication Devices

Members of the Jury:
Before we begin, I have a few preliminary instructions for you.

A. Role of Jury, Court and Attorneys
As the jury in this case, you will be the judges of the facts and you will be the only judges of the facts. You will have to decide what happened. I play no part in judging the facts. That is your responsibility. My role is to be the judge of the law, that is to say, I make whatever legal decisions have to be made during the course of the trial, and I will explain to you the legal principles that must guide you in your decisions on the facts. You are to judge the facts in this case based upon the evidence presented to you and based only on the evidence. This evidence will consist of the testimony of witnesses, the exhibits marked into evidence and any material that we read to you.
As the trier of fact, it will be your job to judge the believability of the witnesses. Size up the witness. Is the witness telling the truth? Does the witness know what he/she is talking about? How good is the witness's recollection? Is the witness accurate and correct in what he/she is saying? You may also consider the demeanor of the witness, that is, how is the witness behaving and responding to the questions asked. You may believe part of the witness's testimony and not believe other parts of it.
During the trial, I will be required to rule on the admission or rejection of evidence. You are to give no consideration to any evidence that I rule to be inadmissible and you are not to speculate or guess about what that evidence might have been or what it might have meant.
Do not infer from any rulings I make in this case or anything I say what my feelings might be about the outcome of this case. Even if you knew what my feelings were, you should disregard them, because it is your decisions on the facts that control, not mine.
At the close of the entire case, I will explain to you the law, which applies to this case. You must accept the law as I explain it to you and apply it to the facts as you find them to be based on the evidence.
During the course of the trial, you will hear from the attorneys on numerous occasions. Always bear in mind that the attorneys are not witnesses and what they say is not evidence in the case, whether they are arguing, objecting or asking questions. The attorneys are here as advocates and spokespersons for their clients' positions.

B. Prohibition Against Discussing the Case
This case is very important to all the parties involved. They are entitled to the full attention of the jury throughout the trial and to fair and impartial consideration of the case by the jury. It is important, therefore, that you keep an open mind about this case until the very end when you are in the jury room deliberating. You are not to make any judgments or come to any conclusions about this case, until you have heard the whole story and that means until all the evidence is presented and I have explained the law to you.
You are not to have any contact or discussions with any of the parties, their attorneys or any of the witnesses.
You are not to discuss the case with anyone or permit anyone to discuss the case with you, whether here in the courthouse or anywhere outside the courthouse. If anyone attempts to discuss this case with you or attempts to influence your judgment about the case, you are to report that to me immediately.
If you are to keep an open mind, you must not even discuss this case among yourselves until it is over and you are deliberating. That means, when you convene each morning and as you are leaving at the end of each trial day and during your recesses and breaks you are not to talk about this case among yourselves.
Do not discuss this case with anyone not on the jury. This includes your family and friends. When you go home you may tell your family you have been selected as a juror in a civil case and the expected length of the trial. You should not tell them anything more about the case. Even though a further explanation by you may begin innocently, once you finish talking the other person is not going to just stand there and say nothing. That person will say something and that response may influence your thinking. Your thinking should be influenced only by what you learn in the courtroom.

C. Jurors Not to Visit Accident Scene or Do Investigations (Revised 5/07)

Where case involves an accident:
While this case is pending, you must not visit [the scene of the accident] [the place where the incident occurred]. That area may have changed from the time of the [accident] [incident] until now.
In all cases:
While this case is pending, you are not to conduct any research or make any investigations on your own about the case. That is not your job. Your job is to decide the case based solely upon the evidence presented to all of you here in the court room.
You should not review or seek out information about the issues in the case, the parties, the attorneys or the witnesses, either in traditional formats such as newspapers, books, advertisements, television or radio broadcasts or magazines or through the internet or other computer research. You also should not attempt to communicate with others about the case, either personally or through computers, cell phone messaging, personal electronic and media devices or other forms of wireless communication. You should not go on the internet or participate in or review any websites, internet “chat rooms” or “blogs” nor should you seek out photographs or documents of any kind that in any way relate to the case.
While it may be tempting to engage in such conduct, it is very important that you refrain from doing so. This is because, as a juror, you are not to be influenced, or allow yourself to be influenced, by any information that has not been presented to you during the course of the trial. You are here to decide this case based solely on the evidence presented in this courtroom and your failure to abide by this requirement would unfairly and adversely impact the judicial process.

D. Note-Taking[1] (11/98)
(When note taking is prohibited)
You will not be permitted to take notes during this trial. The concern is that note-taking would be distracting, that notes would often be incomplete and that undue weight may be given to the notes. We want you to rely upon your combined recollection of all the evidence.

E. Outline of Order of Events
Let me now outline for you the order of events.
We will start with the attorneys' opening statements. In their opening statements the attorneys will explain to you the position of their clients in this litigation. They will tell you what they think this case is about, and what they believe the evidence will show. The opening statements are designed to highlight for you the disagreements and factual differences between the parties in order to help you judge the significance of the evidence when it is presented.
Once the attorneys have made their opening statements then each party is given an opportunity to present its evidence. First, the plaintiff presents its evidence. Then the defense will present its evidence. Each witness will undergo direct examination which means that the attorney calling the witness will ask that person questions. After that the other attorneys are given an opportunity to question the witness, which is referred to as cross-examination.
Once all the evidence has been presented, the attorneys will make their closing arguments. They will give you their analysis of what the evidence means and will attempt to highlight the significant evidence that is helpful to their clients' positions.
Once the closing arguments are completed, I will instruct you on the legal principles to be followed when deciding this case
F. Jury of Six - Alternates[2] (11/98)
You will note that seven/eight of you now sit in the jury box. After the court's charge, one/two of you will be selected as alternate(s). The remaining six will then deliberate and return a verdict. Since we do not know now which jurors will be the six jurors who are finally selected, all jurors should pay careful attention to the evidence as it is presented and to the court's ruling which are applicable to the case. [R. 1:8-2(d)]

G. Settling Defendants[3]
When this case started, plaintiff claimed that was a cause of the accident. Before the trial started, settled with plaintiff and for that reason will no longer be involved in this trial.
The effect of that settlement on the parties still here is of no concern to you at the present time and you should not speculate about that. I will explain the effect that settlement will have on your deliberations at the end of the case.

H. Schedule
[Explain to jury days you expect to conduct trial, and days including motion days, holidays they will be off. You may also choose to explain the court hours and expected times for lunch and breaks.]

I. Cell Phone, Pager and Other Wireless Communication Devices (Approved 5/04, Revised 5/07)

If you have a cell phone, pager or other communication device, you must turn that device off while in the courtroom.
When serving on a trial, you must turn off cell phones and other communication devices and cannot use them for any purpose when in the courtroom or the jury room.
You will be given a telephone number at which you can be contacted during the trial.
Unless instructed otherwise by me, the trial judge, you can use those devices only when outside the courtroom or jury room during recesses. When you are permitted to use such devices, you must remember, as I have instructed you, you may not use them in any way to conduct your own research or make any investigations about this case on your own, or to communicate with anyone about this case.

[1] When note-taking is permitted, use Model Civil Charge 1.14, Note-Taking By Jurors.
R. 1:8-8(b) authorizes note taking when requested by an attorney and permitted by the judge.

[2] If fewer than six jurors remain before deliberations begin, the parties can then agree on the record to submit the case to fewer than six jurors. R. 1:8-2(b)(2). In this case, unless the parties agree otherwise, the verdict must be unanimous. R. 1:8-2(c)(2).

If more than six jurors remain before deliberations begin, the parties can then agree on the record to have all remaining jurors deliberate. R. 1:8-2(b)(3). In this case, unless the parties otherwise agree, the verdict shall be by five-sixths of the deliberating jurors. R. 1:8‑2(c)(3).

[3] See Model Civil Charge 1.17 entitled "Instructions to Jury in Cases in Which One or More Defendants Have Settled With the Plaintiff" for use in the charge.



General Directions Regarding Use of These Instructions

1. Welcome and Explanation of Nature of Case

2. Duty of Citizens to Serve as Jurors

3. Excusing Jurors for Personal Reasons Based on Length of Trial

4. Number of Jurors to be Selected and Procedure for taking Position in Jury Box (11/98)

5. Counsel's Right to Peremptory Challenges

6. Introduction of Parties, Counsel and Potential Witnesses

7. Identification of Potential Witnesses

8. Particularized Questions

9. Excusing the Balancing of the Jury after Selection is Complete


General Directions Regarding Use Of These Instructions
[The following outline with suggested jury instructions is offered as assistance to judges in organizing their communications with juries. The Committee recommends that the judge tailor these instructions to the particular case being tried. In the circumstances presented, some of these suggested instructions should be altered, some should be eliminated. In addition, the format or the order in which these instructions are given to the jury should be the subject of the judge's option or discretion in each individual case.]

1. Welcome and Explanation of Nature of Case
Good Morning (or Good Afternoon), members of the jury. My name is Judge ( ). We are about to select a jury for the trial of a civil case.
[Explain the nature of the case. For example:
It arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on Route #1, here in Middlesex County, on ( date ). The plaintiff brings this suit contending that the accident was caused by the negligence or fault of the driver of the other vehicle. She sues to recover money damages for the injuries she says she sustained in the accident. Her husband is also a plaintiff and he sues

for money damages to compensate him for his losses. The defendant in the case denies that he caused this accident. The jury will be asked to decide fault for the accident and, if the plaintiffs are entitled to an award of damages. The jury will also be asked to decide on the appropriate amount.]

2. Duty of Citizens to Serve As Jurors
I recognize that serving as a juror is inconvenient, but jury service is an important duty of citizenship. Having jurors available to decide the facts in lawsuits is fundamental to our entire system of justice. The courts cannot function without members of the public offering their time to serve as jurors.

3. Excusing Jurors For Personal Reasons Based on Length Of Trial
The trial of this case may take approximately _____ days. [Explain effect of weekends, court holidays or Motion days, if applicable.] Therefore we expect that the trial will end on (state specific day and date).
If you are selected, tell me if that schedule creates a substantial personal problem for you. If I am satisfied that it does, I will excuse you from service on the jury in this case.

4. Number Of Jurors To Be Selected And Procedure For Taking Position In Jury Box (11/98)
We are going to select 6 jurors (7, 8 or more)* for the trial of this case. The Court Clerk will call the names and numbers. Please respond by saying "Here" and come forward. The (Sheriff's officer/court aide) will then seat you in the jury box. [Have clerk select six, seven, eight or more jurors.]
*R. 1:8-2 provides for the number of jurors.

5. Counsel's Right To Peremptory Challenges
After I have asked you a number of questions which relate to your ability to hear and decide this case with an open mind and with complete impartiality, the attorneys who represent the parties in this lawsuit can exercise the right to excuse one or more of the jurors without giving any explanation or reason. If you are excused in that manner, please do not take it personally. No offense is intended. The law traditionally gives each attorney the right to have a limited number of jurors excused for no expressed reason.

6. Introduction Of Parties, Counsel and Potential Witnesses
The parties to this lawsuit are as follows: [Give the full name and

municipality of residence of each party. If the parties are present in the courtroom, the Court may, in its discretion, ask the party to stand so that the jury can identify him or her.]
The attorneys who represent the parties are: [Give the full name of each attorney and the law firm for which he or she appears. The Court should consider asking each attorney to rise upon introduction by the Court. The Court might consider the option of asking each attorney to introduce himself or herself and the party represented in lieu of the Court performing the introduction.]
Do any of you jurors know any of the parties to this lawsuit or do you know anyone you believe to be related to or acquainted with any party to the lawsuit? [If an affirmative answer, ask the juror to explain.] Do any of you jurors know any attorney involved in this lawsuit or any member of the firm for which the attorney appears? Have you or anyone close to you ever been represented by any of the law firms whose name I have just given you? [If an affirmative answer, ask the juror to explain.]

7. Identification Of Potential Witnesses
I will now identify for you all persons who are potential witnesses in this trial. [Give name and address or some identification of each potential witness.]
Because knowing one of the potential witnesses might influence your independent and impartial judgment of the facts of this case, I need to know if you recognize any of the names I just read. Do you know any of the potential witnesses in this trial? [If an affirmative answer, ask the juror to explain.]

8. Particularized Questions
[At this point, the Court should question the jurors about all subjects that might influence their impartiality. The nature of those questions will depend upon the nature and the specific facts of the case to be tried.]
[In the event the Court anticipates that some jurors may be asked to answer certain questions at side-bar in the presence of only the Court and the attorneys, the following instruction should be considered.]
I may occasionally suggest a conference over here at the side of the Bench because there is a possibility that your comment could influence the

other jurors if they heard it. You also might feel more comfortable responding to the questions in some degree of privacy rather than in front of everyone in the courtroom. These conferences will be on the record the same as every other word that is spoken in this courtroom.

9. Excusing The Balance Of The Jury After Selection Is Complete
[After the jury has been selected and sworn in by the Court Clerk, the balance of the jury panel can be returned to the Jury Assembly Room with the following comments:]
The remainder of the jury panel may return to the Jury Assembly Room. Thank you for your service. Please remember my remarks earlier about the importance of jury service to the Court system. Your presence here and your availability to serve as jurors are greatly appreciated.

Model Civil Jury Charges