Stages of Trial

After the jury has been selected and sworn, the trial of a case proceeds as follows.

Opening Statements
An opening statement is made by the attorney for the plaintiff. The attorney for the defendant may then make an opening statement. The purpose of opening statements is to outline to the jury what each side contends the evidence will establish. A general idea of what the case is about is thus presented to the jury. Opening statements are not evidence.

Presenting Evidence

Following the opening statements, the attorney for the plaintiff presents evidence. Thereafter, the defendant may or may not choose to present evidence as he or she sees fit. Evidence falls into 2 classes: testimony and exhibits.
  • Testimony consists of statements made by witnesses under oath.
  • Exhibitis are physical objects such as photographs and written documents. The examination of witnesses by the party calling them is direct examination. Each party has a right to ask questions of the other party's witnesses. This is cross-examination. Jurors are not permitted to question witnesses, unless granted specific authorization by the judge.
Hearing Evidence
Since a juror must base the verdict on the evidence, a juror should hear every question asked and the answer given. If the juror does not hear some of the testimony for any reason, they should advise the Court. Jurors are entitled to take notes in accordance with the directions given by the judge.

Rules of Evidence

Rules of evidence have been developed through the years so that we may have fair and orderly trials. When a question is asked which either attorney believes is in violation of these rules, he or she has a right to object to the question. The judge then decides whether the question is to be answered by the witness. A ruling by the judge does not mean he or she is taking sides. The judge is deciding that the law does, or does not, permit the question to be asked and answered. Jurors should not be prejudiced for or against one side of the case because of objections made by an attorney. At times the jury may be excused from the courtroom while objections are being discussed, or for other reasons. Under the law, various matters must be heard out of the presence of the jury. When a trial is necessarily interrupted for these reasons, the juror should not feel that their time is being wasted

When all parties have presented their evidence, they "rest".

At this time the Court and the attorneys will prepare instructions as to the law which are to be given to the jurors.

Closing Arguments

Closing arguments are then made by the attorneys, in which they summarize the evidence and try to persuade the jury to find in favor of their respective clients. Closing arguments are not evidence and any statement made by the attorneys which is not based on the evidence should be disregarded. The plaintiff has the burden of proof and therefore has the right to open and close the argument.

Judge Reads Instructions
The judge then reads instructions of law to the jury in which he or she defines the issues the jurors must decide and tells them the law that governs the case. Jurors should listen very carefully to these instructions, bearing in mind that it is their sworn duty to follow them. These written instructions will be taken to the jury room for their use.

Reach a Verdict
After the instructions have been read they will go to the jury room to consider the case and reach a verdict.