If you have been involved in a car accident and the lawsuit goes through the pre-trial stage without anyone agreeing on a settlement, your case could be taken to a civil court.
Here is what you can expect from a lawsuit that is taken to a civil court:
If your case is heard by a jury the potential jurors are sworn in, and the judge informs them about the case, and any selection procedures they need to be aware of. At this stage, you and the defendant and your lawyers may be identified to the jurors.
The potential jurors will then be asked a few questions, in some parts of the United States, it is the judge who asks the questions. The questions are likely to be based on some of the issues that the lawyers for the plaintiff and defense have raised. In some states, it is the lawyers who will ask potential jurors any questions.
If it is found that a juror or jurors cannot be fair when taking part, they will be excused. Your lawyer using the information they have learned about the jurors can excuse (Or ‘Strike’) a number of potential jurors. Your lawyer does not have to give a reason as to why the person has been excused.
In some parts of the United States, there may be 12 civil jurors. However, some may have fewer jurors.
If it is likely that your case is going to last more than a day there may be alternate jurors. Each juror will get to hear the evidence, and they will replace a juror if they are unable to attend the case. When the deliberation begins, the unneeded jurors (Such as some of the alternates) will be excused. This means they will not make a decision on the case.
If your trial is going to be heard by a judge (Also known as a ‘Bench trial’) no jury will be selected.
The Opening Statements
Once the jury has been selected your lawyer (If you are the plaintiff) will speak first. The defendant’s lawyer will speak afterwards. Opening statements help the jury to understand what each of the lawyers thinks the evidence is.
Once the opening statements have been given the evidence is presented. Evidence usually consists of testimonies that have been given by witnesses in the stand. At this point, exhibits may be introduced.
Direct and Cross-examination
When a witness has been called to testify the lawyer who called that particular witness will be the first person to ask them questions. This is known as ‘Direct examination’. It is the other lawyers turn to ask the witness questions. This is known as ‘Cross-examination’.
As soon as the 2nd lawyer has finished questioning the witness, the 1st lawyer can then ask any question that were raised when the witness was being cross-examined. This is known as ‘Redirect examination’. The 2nd lawyer can now ask even more question is what is known as a ‘Re-cross examination’. The questioning can continue until each of the lawyers has no more questions. You may want to be aware that some judges also ask the witnesses questions, but not all of them do.
During the civil court trial exhibits such as photographs, documents and other forms of evidence are introduced as each of the witnesses testify. The lawyer that would like the exhibit to be used as evidence offers it as evidence. If the opposing lawyer does not want the jury to consider the exhibit they can object. It is then up to the judge to rule on this objection.
Once your lawyer has finished calling the witnesses and has introduced all the exhibits the plaintiff then rests. (However, if the judge decides or ‘Rules’ that the plaintiff hasn’t proven their case the trial will come to an end and the plaintiff will lose.) It will now be up to the defendant to call upon witnesses and introduce any exhibits. Once the defense has finished its case the plaintiff can then present any rebuttal evidence that contradicts the defense’s case.
The Jury’s Instructions
Once all the evidence is presented the judge will inform or ‘Instruct’ the jurors about the law that can be applied to the case. The jurors are told that they should accept the law as it has been given to them. They are then asked to decide on the facts and reach a conclusion about the case.
The Closing Arguments
In most parts of the United States, the lawyer’s closing arguments come before the judge’s instructions to the jury. However, in some states, these instructions will come before any of the closing arguments have been heard. The plaintiff’s lawyer makes the first set of arguments and the defendant’s lawyer makes their arguments. Lastly, the plaintiff’s lawyer will attempt to prove the case. If the case cannot be proven the plaintiff will lose.
The Jury’s Deliberations
Once all the arguments have been given the judge will explain how the deliberations need to be conducted. The jurors then retire to the deliberation room so they can make their decision. In most parts of the United States, the jury’s decision must be unanimous.
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