The Trial

Trials are extremely hard to handle on your own, without a lawyer. You may want to consider hiring a lawyer to handle the trial part of your case on a limited-scope basis. To find out more about limited-scope representation, and get help to find a limited-scope lawyer, read Limited-Scope Representation.

Choosing a jury

If you have a jury trial, the first thing you will do at your trial is choose the jury. The process in which the parties and judge pick a jury is called “voir dire.”

During voir dire, each party can ask the jurors questions. The main purpose of these questions is to make sure the jurors can be fair and open-minded. It can be hard to tell if a person already has an opinion or prejudice. Spend a little time questioning every juror, to the extent the court allows.

To prepare for voir dire, before you go to court, write down some questions that will help you choose jurors for your case. Be prepared because this process takes time.
Also, the party that asks for a jury trial must pay the jury fees. They must pay for every person in the jury every day. If the people on the jury come from far away, the party that wanted the jury will have to pay their travel expenses. Every day before court begins, that party will have to deposit the fees and travel expenses for the trial.

Giving opening statements

Once a jury has been selected and sworn in, each side has the right to make an opening statement. The opening statement is intended to inform the jury in a jury trial, or the judge in a court trial, about the nature of the case and what you intend to prove. What is said in the opening statement is not considered evidence. It is just the opinion of the party (or lawyer) giving the opening statement.

Presenting the case

Once the opening statements have been made, the plaintiff’s attorney begins presenting his or her case first. The plaintiff’s lawyer introduces the evidence supporting his/her case, and puts witnesses on the stand, and conducts a direct examination. The defendant has the opportunity to cross-examine the plaintiff’s witnesses.

Once the plaintiff is finished presenting the case, the defendant has the right to present his or her case. Like the plaintiff, the defendant can introduce evidence and witnesses, who can be cross-examined by the plaintiff after the defendant finishes the direct examination.

During the trial, both sides may object to questions or statements made by the other party or by a witness, based on the rules of evidence. The judge rules on those objections as they are raised.

Giving closing statements

Once both sides are done presenting their cases, each can then address the jury or the judge one last time in a closing statement. The plaintiff once again goes first. After the plaintiff is finished, the defendant has the opportunity to give a closing statement as well. The plaintiff may be given a last rebuttal (a chance to respond to the defendant’s closing statement) since the plaintiff has the burden of proof in the case. These are the last words the parties will direct to the jury (or, in a court trial, to the judge) before the jury goes to deliberate on a verdict or the judge makes his or her decision in the case.

The decision

At the end of a jury trial, the judge will give the jury instructions on how to apply the law. The jury first decides what facts they believe are true. Once they have determined the facts, they must apply the law as the judge gives it to them in the form of jury instructions.  Then, the jury will go to the jury room and talk about the case. This is called “deliberating.”

In most civil cases, the jury must apply the “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof. This means that, to win, the plaintiff’s lawyer must prove to the jury that the plaintiff’s side of the story is more likely than not. It does not mean that one side brought in more evidence than the other side. It means that one side’s evidence was more believable than the other. This standard is much less strong than the standard in criminal cases, where the prosecutor must prove that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

When they make a decision, the jury will go back to the courtroom. The clerk will read the decision. The jury can make a decision quickly, or they can take days if the case is complicated.

If the judge decides your case, the judge may make a decision on the spot or may need time to make a decision and announce the decision later. If the judge decides the case later, he or she takes the case under submission. The decision is mailed to the parties at a later date.

The decision of the jury or the judge is then entered in the court records as a judgment and it becomes official.

After the decision

The party that loses the case may be able to appeal the court’s decision. Appeals of limited civil cases (cases for $25,000 or less) are filed in the appellate division of the superior court (the same court where your case was decided). Appeals of unlimited civil cases (cases for more than $25,000) are filed in the Court of Appeal for your district. Click to find out about appeals in civil cases.
Appeals are very difficult and have strict time limits and requirements. If you think you want to file an appeal, research the law and act quickly. Talk to a lawyer for advice about your options. Click for help finding a lawyer.