The Conduct of the Trial

Opening Statements

The attorney for the Plaintiff in civil cases or the prosecuting attorney in criminal cases will generally begin by making a short opening statement. The lawyer for the defendant may then make a similar statement or he may defer his opening statement until the plaintiff's case is completed. The opening statement will tell you what the party says or believes the relevant facts are. The opening statement also outlines the evidence by which the party expects to prove his version of the facts. You should remember that these statements of the lawyers are not evidence, but are only the parties' respective versions of the facts. These statements must be proved by evidence.

Witness & Other Evidence

Any testimony or any exhibits which tend to prove or disprove a statement alleged or claimed by one of the parties to be fact, is called evidence. Testimony is a word with which you are undoubtedly familiar. It means the statements of any person called to be a witness at the trial. You probably are not quite as familiar with the meaning of exhibit. An exhibit can be any physical article, such as a document, photo, gun, etc, introduced at the trial for consideration by the jury in the determination of the facts in the case. 

Sometimes, the testimony of a witness will have been given outside the courtroom or at a different trial and put into writing. Such written testimony is called either a deposition or a transcript. One of the attorneys may wish to offer this written testimony in accordance with any instructions given by the judge.

Examination of Witnesses

Generally, the parties to a lawsuit will call witnesses to testify. The witnesses are sworn to tell the whole truth. If the attorney calls the party he represents or some neutral person, the witness called is his witness, but if he calls the opposite party, the witness called is referred to as an adverse witness. An attorney who has called his witness proceeds with direct examination. In doing so, the attorney asks questions to bring out answers tending to support facts he wishes to prove.

Rules of Procedure

Any attorney conducting an examination of a witness must follow certain rules of procedure. If these rules are not followed, the other attorney may object and if the judge thinks the question improper, he rules that the objection is sustained, which means that the question cannot be answered. If the question is proper, the objection is over-ruled, and the answer is given. When the direct examination is over, the attorney for the other party or parties may cross-examine. 

Cross-Examination

The purpose of cross-examination is to bring out additional information that may alter the jury's impression or understanding of the statements made by the witness on direct examination. When cross-examination is finished, the first attorney may ask questions on redirect examination to clear up points developed on cross-examination. Generally, witnesses are only allowed to answer the questions asked. The court may order the jury to disregard altogether a particular statement of a witness, in which event such statement should of course be disregarded.

Order of Presentation

When the plaintiff's attorney in a civil case or the prosecuting attorney in a criminal case has put in all his evidence, he indicates that he is through by resting his case. Then the defendant's attorney calls his witnesses and offers his evidence. When the defendant's attorney is through, he also rests. Then the plaintiff's attorney or the prosecuting attorney may offer evidence in rebuttal to explain or deny the defendant's evidence.

Arguments

After all the evidence has been given, each attorney will make his argument to the jury, giving the reasons why he thinks his side should win. If the testimony of witnesses is conflicting, he will tell you why he thinks the witnesses on his side should be believed rather than those on the other side. You should listen to these arguments carefully. What the attorney says in his argument is not evidence. He is only giving his version of the case which you may or may not find convincing. A juror should not make up his mind on the outcome of the case until he has heard and considered all the evidence and the instructions of the judge.

Instructions

Toward the end of the trial the judge will give you his instructions. The purpose of these instructions is to indicate to the jury what the applicable rules of law are. That is, once the jury has determined which version of facts is to be believed it must then apply the rules of law given by the judge to reach its verdict.

Delays During Trial

During trial there may be delays for any one of many reasons. You may not know the reason for a delay and should not guess at it. Very often a delay actually saves time and more quickly brings the case to an end. Be patient.

Hearing & Seeing Witnesses

Jurors are the sole judges of whether a witness is telling the truth and is to be believed. Each juror should pay close attention to the witness who is testifying to hear what the witness says and to watch his manner and actions. If you cannot hear plainly, do not hesitate to interrupt and let the judge know that you cannot hear.

Guessing at the Judge's Opinion

While a trial is going on, you may be tempted to guess at what the judge thinks about it, or the way he thinks it should be decided. This is a mistake. You are fooling yourself if you think you can read the judge's mind. Even though the judge's rulings may be mostly or entirely in favor of one party that certainly does not indicate how he thinks the case should be decided. If the judge has an opinion about the facts and it is one that you ought to know, he will make it plain to you in his instructions. If he does not express an opinion on the facts, it is because he does not wish you to know his opinion or because he ought not to indicate his opinion on questions of fact.

Juror's Conduct During Trial

There are certain rules that a juror should follow throughout the trial in order that he may be fair to all sides. The judge will point out some of the rules to you. Some of the most important rules are:

Inspecting the Scene

It may be that the suit involves some place or thing, e.g. the scene of an accident, the operation of traffic lights or the like. If it is thought necessary and proper that the jury should make an inspection, the judge will send you in a body under the direction of the court officer. It would be improper for any juror to make an inspection unless ordered by the court, so be careful no to do so. Conditions may have changed. An unauthorized inspection might force a retrial of the case.

Discussing the Case

During the trial you should not talk about the case with other jurors, or with other persons, or allow other people to talk about it in your presence. If anyone should insist upon talking about the case to you, tell him that you are on the jury and must not listen to him. If he insists, then learn his name if you can and report the matter to the judge at the first opportunity.

Television, Radio & Newspaper Accounts

In order that the mind of each juror be kept open until he has heard all the evidence, the arguments of the attorneys, and the instructions of the court, you should not listen to radio accounts or watch television accounts of the trial or read articles about it in the newspapers. Such accounts sometimes give an unbalanced idea of the case.

Talking with Parties or Attorney

Do not talk with parties, witnesses or attorneys during a trial.

Promptness

It is most important that jurors should not be late in reporting for duty. A juror who is late wastes the time of all other jurors, the judge, the attorneys, the witnesses, the parties and the other court employees.