Skip to main content


Northern District of Texas

David C. Godbey, Chief Judge
Karen Mitchell, Clerk of Court

Common Words and Phrases Relating to Jury Service

You are here

None of this information is to be regarded as instruction of law to be applied by jurors for a case in which they serve. The judge will instruct the jury in each separate case as to the law that applies.

Acquittal: Judgment that a criminal defendant has not been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, a verdict of "not guilty."

Arraignment: A proceeding in which an individual who is accused of committing a crime is brought into court, told of the charges, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

Beyond a reasonable doubt: A verdict of "guilty" in a criminal case means that the jury has found that the person's guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt. The proof has to leave you with the conviction that the charge is true.

Challenges: Individuals may be excused from service on a jury by a judge or the attorneys in a particular case for various reasons. If a lawyer wishes to have a juror excused, he or she must issue a "challenge" for that juror. There are two types of challenges:

  1. For cause: The juror may be excused for cause, meaning that he or she may have some connection to the parties in the case which would cause an impartial observer to believe the juror might be biased either in favor or against one of the parties. There is no limit to the amount of challenges for cause that might be used by either side in a case. The judge must agree with the cause cited for the challenge before the juror is released.
  2. Peremptory: Each side has a certain number of challenges that can be used to excuse a juror without giving a reason. The judge must excuse the juror in question if a peremptory challenge is issued. This does not mean that the juror is incompetent in any way. It may mean that the attorney is exercising a "hunch" but cannot point to any specific reason why a juror may not be impartial.

Civil case/civil suit: A civil case begins when a person or corporation (known as the "plaintiff") files a complaint that another person or corporation (known as the "defendant") failed to carry out a legal duty. If the court finds that the defendant did not carry out the legal duty it may order the defendant to pay compensation to the plaintiff. Most federal cases are civil cases.

Complaint: A written statement by the plaintiff that initiates a civil case. The complaint states the wrongs alleged to have been committed by the defendant and asks for relief by the court.

Conviction: A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.

Counsel: Another name for lawyer or attorney.

Court Reporter: A person who makes word-for-word record of what is said in court.

Damages: Money paid by defendants to successful plaintiffs in civil cases to compensate the plaintiffs for their injuries.

Defendant: In a civil case, the person or organization against whom the plaintiff brings suit; in a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

Deliberations: The name for the discussions held by the jury to decide the outcome of a case.

Evidence: Any type of proof legally presented during trial through witnesses, records or exhibits.

Felony: A serious crime carrying a penalty of more than a year in prison.

Foreperson: Before beginning deliberations, the jury must select a foreperson who will be responsible for making sure discussion is carried on in a free and open manner, that all issues have been completely discussed and that every juror has been given an opportunity to participate. The foreperson also counts the votes and completes and signs the verdict form.

Grand jury: A group of 16-23 citizens who listen to evidence of criminal activity presented by the prosecutors (known in the federal system as "U.S. Attorneys") and decide whether there is enough evidence to charge an individual or individuals with the commission of a crime.

Hearsay: Hearsay statements are those made by a witness who did not actually see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. Hearsay statements are not usually admitted into evidence.

Impartial: Without any prejudice or bias or preconception. The jurors at the beginning of a trial should be impartial so they can base their verdict on the legal evidence presented during the trial.

Jury: The group of persons selected to hear the evidence in a trial and render a verdict on matters of fact. See also grand jury.

Jury Instructions: The guidelines given to the jury by the judge at the beginning and at the end of the trial explaining what the law is in the case and how the jurors should evaluate the evidence.

Jury pool: The group of people reporting for jury duty at the court location from which a jury will be chosen to serve.

Litigants: The parties who are involved in a lawsuit.

Misdemeanor: An offense punishable by one year or imprisonment or less. See also felony.

Mistrial: An invalid trial caused by some kind of fundamental error in law or procedure. If a mistrial is declared, the trial must start over again with a new jury.

Motion: A request by a litigant to a judge for a decision on a case-related issue.

Nolo contendere: Literally "no contest." A plea of nolo contendere has the same effect as a guilty plea for sentencing purposes but cannot be used as an admission of guilt for any other purpose.

Perjury: A false statement made under oath in court.

Petit jury: Literally "little jury." Contrasted with the grand jury which hears evidence of possible crimes, the petit jury is impaneled to sit on an individual civil or criminal case and render a verdict in that case.

Plaintiff: The person who files the complaint in a civil lawsuit.

Plea: In a criminal case, the defendant's statement pleading "guilty" or "not guilty" in answer to the charges. See also nolo contendere.

Polled: Calling the names of the jurors and asking individually or collectively how they voted before the verdict is officially recorded.

Preponderance of the evidence: Greater weight of the evidence. This refers to the amount of proof required in a civil case which is a lower standard than "beyond a reasonable doubt" required in a criminal case.

Prosecute: To charge someone with a crime. A prosecutor tries a criminal case on behalf of the government.

Settlement: Parties to a lawsuit resolve their dispute without having a trial.

Sequester: To separate. If a judge orders a jury to be sequestered, the jurors will be housed together in a hotel and prevented from contacting anyone outside of the court. This is very seldom done and when it is, it is for protection of the jurors from influence by the media or threats by outside parties.

Subpoena: An official order from the court that a person present himself or herself at a certain time.

Testimony: Statements made under oath by a witness.

Unanimous: All jurors must agree on the verdict.

U.S. Attorney: A lawyer appointed by the President in each judicial district to prosecute and defend cases for the federal government. The U.S. Attorney employs a staff of Assistant U.S. Attorneys who appear as the government's attorneys in individual cases.

Verdict: The official decision or finding of the jury which is reported to the court.

Voir dire: Means "to speak the truth" in French. It refers to the examination of prospective jurors by the judge and attorneys to determine whether the individuals are qualified to serve on a jury in a particular case.

Witness: Someone who can give a firsthand account of something seen, heard or experienced.