The Court System: Understanding a Typical Court Case (A)


            A courtroom is open to the public, unless otherwise ordered.  The first step in the litigation process, or the operation of working a lawsuit through the court system, are the pleadings.  These include the complaints made by the plaintiff, the one suing, and the answer of the defendant, the one being sued, which detail all charges, facts and defenses of the lawsuit. 

            The following phase of the litigation process is the pretrial motions.  In this phase, either party could try to get the case dismissed before a trial would be set to go underway.  The three major motions include a motion to dismiss, motion for judgement on the pleadings and motion for summary judgement.

            Next comes the discovery phase.  In this phase, both parties are allowed to exchange all information between each other and could obtain any information from a third party prior to trial.  Witnesses could also testify orally or written during the discovery phase.

            Pretrial conference, or the hearing, follows upon request.  This usually comprises of the defense team, searching for any possibility of a settlement rather than a trial, and the judge. 

            A trial can be held with or without a jury.  A judge makes his or her decision based on the facts and evidence if there is no jury involved in the case.  However, if there is a jury, which is available to any case exceeding $20.00, a voir dire is held.  Voir dire is the process in which attorneys question potential jurors and then choose members for the jury whom they felt were most unbiased. All civil and criminal juries consist of 12 members, with 2 alternates.

            After a jury is selected, the trial may begin.  To start off, the attorneys both present an opening statement, telling the jury the facts of their case and what they intend to prove.  The plaintiff’s case is presented first.  The defense team could argue any evidence introduced by the plaintiff and has the opportunity to cross-examine the plaintiff’s witnesses, if desired.  Following the plaintiff’s case, the defense team could ask for a motion for a directed verdict, which is based on the ground that the plaintiff did not present enough sufficient evidence.  If this motion is denied, then the trial continues with the defendant’s case.  The plaintiff’s team could argue any evidence introduced by the defense and has the opportunity to cross-examine the defendant’s witnesses.  Once the defense concludes their cases, both attorneys give their closing argument, which sums up their case and argues for a verdict in favor of their client(s).  The jury is then dismissed to deliberate a verdict, or decision.  In a civil case, the verdict must be derived from a majority vote amongst the jurors and could result in either an award of compensation for damage or something else of value or an injunction.  The standard of judgement must be based upon a preponderance of the evidence.  In a criminal case, the verdict must be derived from a unanimous vote amongst the jurors and could result in a conviction, acquittal or a hung jury.  The standard of judgement must be guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

            After the jury has read the verdict to the courtroom, posttrial motions could take place.  If the plaintiff wins, the defense could make a motion for judgement n.o.v., which is based on the grounds that the verdict was unreasonable and inaccurate.  If the judge does not deny the motion, he or she will then disregard the jury’s verdict and input a judgement in favor of the defendant.  The defense also has the option to make a motion for a new trial, which is a request to the judge to set aside the verdict and hold a new trial.  The judge makes a decision based on the evidence, and possibly newly introduced evidence as well.

            Assuming that any posttrial motions have been denied, the defendant has the option to appeal their case.  All records from the previous trial and a brief, or outline of the facts in the case, from both sides must be turned over to the appellate court.  The court reviews the case based on the records, not the evidence.  If the appellate court feels that there was in fact an error, the verdict from the lower court will then be reversed, or in some cases remanded, in other words, sent back to the original court for a new trial.



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