In Maryland, when a personal injury case goes to trial there are two potential triers of fact: a judge and a jury. A trier of fact, or fact finder, is defined as "[o]ne or more persons . . . who hear testimony and review evidence to rule on a factual issue." Black's Law Dictionary, 671 (9th ed. 2009).
Jury Trials in Maryland
Jury trials are probably the most commonly known type of trial. A jury is "[a] group of persons selected according to law and given the power to decide questions of fact and return a verdict in the case submitted to them." Black's Law Dictionary, 934 (9th ed. 2009). The jury hears evidence put on by the plaintiff and defense in the form of witnesses and exhibits. After each side has presented their case, the jury is then instructed by the judge on the applicable law and begins deliberations. Once the jury has reached a verdict - usually required to be unanimous - the verdict is then read to the courtroom and jurors are released from further duty.
In a jury trial, the jury decides all questions of fact, but a judge decides all questions of law including admissibility, relevance, and any other issues or objections raised.
In Maryland, you are qualified to be a juror if you are at least 18, an American citizen, and a resident of the city or county where you would serve. For example, an 18 year old who was born in Maryland and lives in Baltimore City would be qualified to be a juror in a Baltimore City court. Jurors are selected at random from one of several listsincluding the state's voter registration lists and the Motor Vehicle Administration's list of driver license and identification card holders.
In Maryland, civil cases typically have six people on the jury, plus one or two alternate jurors. The alternates become jurors if a jury member cannot complete his or her service. Otherwise, alternate jurors are dismissed after closing arguments.
Bench Trials in Maryland
Bench trials are less well known than jury trials. In a bench trial "[t]he judge decides questions of fact as well as questions of law." Black's Law Dictionary, 1644 (9th ed. 2009). The process is the same as that of a jury trial: the judge hears evidence put on by the plaintiff and defense. However, the judge, at the same time he or she is hearing evidence, is also making any rulings regarding admissibility of evidence, etc. The advantage of a bench trial is they are usually much quicker than a jury trial. In addition, there is no right to a jury trial in some civil cases, so a bench trial will be used instead.
In Maryland, the Maryland Declaration of Rights (a part of the Constitution of Maryland) specifically allows for jury trials where the amount in controversy exceeds $15,000. Md. Code Ann., Decl. Of Rts. art. 23 (2012). ("The right of trial by Jury of all issues of fact in civil proceedings in the several Courts of Law in this State, where the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of $15,000, shall be inviolably preserved.")
Bench trials are used exclusively in the Maryland District Courts.