From the Handbook for Trial Jurors: Serving in the United States District Courts

Cases in the "US District Court" are divided into 2 general classes; "criminal" cases and "civil" cases.

In criminal cases:

  • The person charged with the violation is the "defendant".
  • Charges can be brought against the defendant in two ways; an "indictment" and an "information".
  • An indictment is a written accusation by a "grand jury". An information is a written charge filed by the the "US Attorney" and not the grand jury.
  • After the indictment or the information is filed an "arraignment" takes place. This is the time that the defendant is asked if s/he pleads "guilty" or "not guilty".

In civil cases:

  • The person who begins the case is the "plaintiff".
  • The other "party" is the "defendant".
  • The plaintiff states his claim in a paper called the "complaint". The defendant answers in a paper called the "answer". These papers are the main "pleadings" in the case.

The jury selection:
A "panel" of prospective jurors is brought into the courtroom and sworn in. This question period is called "voir dire". This is to allow the selection of an unbiased jury in the particular case. Unlimited "challenges" for "cause" are allowed by both parties. The parties also have the right to a limited number of "peremptory challenges" for no cause but these can't be used to select sex or race.