Whether it’s Law and Order or My Cousin Vinny, the only experience most people have with a trial is what they see on TV or in the Movies. While there are some depictions of a trial that are realistic, most are not. Therefore, we end up spending time explaining to our clients that will happen at trial.
A trial is a complicated process that involves many moving parts and many steps. There are many books written about trial practice, so a single web page cannot address all the issues. But, here is a general overview of what you can expect:Jury Selection
The first step in a jury trial is picking the jury. A jury will be 12 in Superior Court and 6 in District. There will also be alternates in case a juror has to withdraw.
Until recently, lawyers were rarely allowed to talk directly to the potential jurors. That all changed when Attorney Conducted Voir Dire was allowed. This means that the lawyers are able to question the jurors either individually or as a group. The lawyers will ask questions to ensure that no jurors are unfairly biased and are able to keep an open mind.Opening Arguments
The first part of the actual trial is Opening Statements. This is where both lawyers give an overview of what they think the evidence is going to be. The lawyer is providing a roadmap to the juror so they are better able to process testimony and evidence as it is presented. In civil cases, the Plaintiff goes first, and the Defendant goes second.Direct Examination
Direct Examination is when the lawyer questions his/her own witnesses. A Plaintiff’s lawyer will usually call his client to describe the accident and his/her injuries. A Plaintiff will also call witnesses to testify. The Plaintiff’s lawyer will call witnesses first, and the Defendant’s lawyers will call witnesses second.Cross Examination
After a Direct Examination, the other lawyer is allowed to ask questions of the witnesses. Cross Examination is where a lawyer can poke holes in the other side’s case.Experts
In more serious cases, experts are sometimes used to testify to the jury. Experts are able to explain things to the jury that a jury member would not be expected to know. The expert must be qualified to testify and his/her testimony must be relevant to the case. In personal injury cases, the most common type of expert is a doctor that is able to describe the injuries sustained by the Plaintiff.
Hiring experts can be very expensive. Therefore, it’s often more economical to have a doctor testify before the trial on video. The video can then be played to the jury.Closing Arguments
This is when the lawyers get to argue the evidence to the jury. Lawyers will ask the jury to believe certain evidence and disregard other evidence. A Plaintiff’s lawyer will try to convince the jury that the Defendant was negligent, and that this negligence caused injuries to the Plaintiff. The lawyer also has the option of suggesting to the jury what the verdict amount should be. In civil cases, the Defendant’s lawyer gives the closing argument first, and the Plaintiff goes second.Verdict
This is when the jury makes a decision. The jury will be given a piece of paper that outlines all the elements of hte lawsuit. If the Plaintiff has proven his/her case by a preponderance of the evidence, the jury will give a verdict of a specific amount.Post-Trial Motions and Appeal
During a trial, the lawyers and judge make dozens, if not hundreds of decisions. At the same time, a witness can give surprising testimony. Sometimes, a wrong decision can cause an unfair trial.
After the trial is over, the lawyers have a few days to file motions based on things that happened at trial. If those motions are not allowed, both parties have the option to Appeal the verdict to a higher court.