Your Big Day in Court
Chances are at some point in your life you will end up in a courtroom. You might be a star witness, selected for jury duty, or a plaintive or defendant in a high-profile case. No matter what brings you to court, you will want to know what to expect.
The purpose of a trial according to Judicial Learning Center is “to protect the rights of citizens by resolving disputes fairly.”
The trial process is very systematic with very distinct components each with a specific purpose.
An attorney represents each side (plaintiff/prosecution and defense). For their opening statements, each lawyer presents an overview of their case. They are planting a seed in the minds of each juror, which they intend to help grow during the trial. Nothing they say is considered evidence at this point, just a tease of what’s to come. The criminal prosecution or plaintiff has the “burden of proof” so they always get to go first and present their case. The defense goes second.
Presenting the Evidence
The next thing that happens is each side presents evidence to support their claims. Again, the prosecution or plaintiff goes first. The defense has the option to voice “objections” along the way that the judge will rule on as sustained (allowed) or overruled (rejected).
There are two reasons that objections occur:
Hearsay - this pertains to a witness giving testimony of something someone else told them, not something they experienced first hand and it is not allowed.
Irrelevant - often in the movies you see a witness go off-topic and start to justify actions or try and help the credibility of the defendant and this is ruled, irrelevant. The only items allowed as evidence are direct experience and knowledge of the crime or event.
Each side takes turns presenting evidence and cross-examining witnesses until the jury has received all the pertinent information.
Here is where things get interesting. In many popular novels and movies, the defendant's attorney gives a powerful closing argument where the audience applauds, and he wins the case. The closing argument is where the attorney has the opportunity to be creative and impress upon the jury the importance of ruling in their favor.
Before they can make a ruling, the jury must choose among them a foreperson who keeps the group organized and delivers the decision to the judge. Then they begin deliberation and discuss all the evidence presented to decide the verdict. Every person on the jury must agree to the same judgment. There is no time limit for them to come to a unanimous decision. Once they have concluded, they are brought back into the courtroom and announce it to the judge.
Finally, based on the verdict, the judge determines sanctions for either or both sides. The judge’s ruling is binding and final. In some cases, there is the option to file an appeal to have the verdict overturned.