12. What is the general process or steps involved in a civil trial?
A civil trial begins with the pleadings. Following the pleadings, the parties will generally submit a number of motions to the court for various reasons. This is generally known as pretrial matters. After the pre-trial matters conclude, the trial process begins. A jury trial begins with the parties selecting a jury through the voir dire process. Once the jury is selected, the trial commences. The judge opens the case by going on the record and announcing the case and the parties to the dispute. The pleadings become part of the official record of trial. The parties are then given the opportunity to make an opening statement to the jury. The plaintiff goes first and the defendant is given the opportunity to follow. Often, the defendant will defer delivering the opening statement until after the plaintiff has delivered her entire case.
Following the opening statement, the plaintiff will present all of the evidence and witnesses to support her case. Once the plaintiff completes her presentation of evidence, the Defendant will move the court for a directed verdict. If the motion is denied, the defendant is allowed to present evidence in rebuttal of the plaintiff’s case. Once the defendant completes her presentation of evidence, the jurisdiction may allow the plaintiff a chance to rebut the defendant’s case with any additional presentation of evidence. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s “rebuttal”, the defendant is allowed to the opportunity to rebut the plaintiff’s rebuttal. This is known as the “surrebuttal”. At the conclusion of the surrebuttal, all parties rest. At this point, the defendant will again move the court for summary judgment based upon the presentation of all evidence. If the motion is denied, the court will then allow the parties to make a closing statement to the jury. After closing statements, the presentation of evidence is closed. The remainder of the case belongs to the judge and jury.
• Discussion: Which steps in the trial do you feel are most important or determinative of guilt or innocence?
• Practice Question: The company that you work for is being sued. You are going to be called to testify at trial. You do some research on the trial process. In a concise paragraph, explain the process for a civil action in a manner that anyone can understand it.