Orlando, Orange County and Central Florida Personal Injury and Complex Litigation Attorneys
THE ACTUAL TRIAL PROCESS
The trial judge controls the trial process from a procedural standpoint. He also serves in the capacity of instructing the jury as to the law applicable to the particular case. The jury serves as the "trier of fact"; in other words, the jury evaluates the evidence presented and determines from a factual standpoint which side should prevail. The judge provides the jury with the law which applies to the particular type of case and the facts which have been presented.
The trial process begins by selection of the jury. The process of jury selection is also referred to as "Voir Dire." Both sides are given an opportunity to question prospective jurors to determine who would be best suited for serving on the jury. Effort is put forth to determine who may be biased towards one party or another, who may be incapable of serving because of the length of trial, who may be incapable of serving because of physical or medical conditions, and who simply has no interest in serving. Similarly, life experiences are explored to determine those who may be well-suited to service as opposed to those who may not be well-suited for the particular case. We obviously have to explore those who have preconceived notions in reference to the tort and/or justice system. Both sides are given an opportunity to "strike" certain prospective jurors so as to ultimately end up with six (6) jurors to hear the case (and the noted alternates).
Once the jury has been selected, both sides are given an opportunity to provide their respective "opening statements" outlining what they feel the evidence in the case will demonstrate. The plaintiff (you) goes first. It is our opportunity to advise the jury as to why we are there, what the defendant did wrong, and what the consequences of the wrongful conduct have been.
Witnesses and Evidence
After completion of the opening statements, the plaintiff, who goes first, presents evidence by calling witnesses to the stand, who substantiate the plaintiff's allegations. Documents, photographs, and records generally get admitted into evidence through witnesses who are testifying.
Depositions are sometimes read or, alternatively, a video tape deposition is sometimes played in lieu of having the witness appear live. The depositions of the parties (plaintiff and/or defendant) can be read to the jury even though the plaintiff and/or defendant are present in the courtroom. The plaintiff may read the deposition of the defendant, or parts of it, during the presentation of his case and, similarly, the defendant may read the deposition of the plaintiff, or parts of it, during the presentation of his case.
Once the plaintiff has presented all of his or her witnesses and placed into evidence all of his or her records and documents, the plaintiff "rests". Once the plaintiff has rested his case, the other side may move for what is called a "directed verdict." This is a legal issue decided by the judge and addresses whether the plaintiff has sustained his burden of producing enough evidence that the matter should be allowed to go to the jury for a decision. If the case has been properly prepared and thought out, a directed verdict is not likely to be granted.
After this issue has been resolved, the defense is then given an opportunity to similarly present its case through its witnesses and is similarly afforded an opportunity to present documents and records as evidence. The defense then "rests". At the conclusion of the defendant's case, additional legal motions may be made once again by both parties.
Once both sides have rested their respective cases, the lawyers are given an opportunity in "closing argument" to visit with the jury once again and identify why one side should prevail over the other. In closing argument, the plaintiff again goes first, followed by the defendant, and then the plaintiff is afforded an additional opportunity to "rebut" what was said by the defendant in his closing argument. This "rebuttal" portion of the closing argument process is an extremely valuable tool when properly utilized by a competent plaintiff's trial lawyer.
Once the closing arguments have been completed, the judge will instruct the jury on the law applicable to the case. He will actually read the jury instructions to the jury members and, under certain circumstances, may actually give the jurors copies of the jury instructions. Jurors do pay very close attention to jury instructions and many times hinge their decision on a jury instruction itself.
Jury Deliberations and Verdict
Once the jury has retired to the jury room, a foreperson is selected and deliberations begin. Deliberations can take an hour or can take several days. Depending on the complexity of the case, jurors may spend several days in deliberations. Once they have completed their deliberations, the jury notifies the Court Bailiff and the Bailiff will contact the judge to notify the judge a "Verdict" is ready. The parties are then called back to the courtroom and the Verdict is read in open court by the Clerk.
After the trial is completed and the Verdict has been rendered, the case may still be far from over. The losing party has the right to file various motions challenging the Verdict, the rulings made by the judge during the course of the trial, and the appropriateness of the jury's deliberations. A trial judge has the legal authority to order a new trial if he feels substantial errors have been made, however, it is rare for a trial judge to order a new trial. Where the trial judge believes the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's Verdict, he will usually allow the jury's Verdict to stand. APPEAL After an adverse Verdict and after the denial of any post-trial motions, the losing party still has the right to seek an "Appeal" whereby an appellate court considers the appropriateness of the Verdict rendered and the legal rulings made by the trial judge during the course of the trial. An appeal may take several months or even years to complete. One of the reasons we put forth so much effort to resolve cases successfully through settlement in Mediation or otherwise is because of the length of time it takes to go through the appellate process. We have had a number of cases where after obtaining a successful Verdict we have had to wait several years to actually collect because of the appellate process involved.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us and discuss your situation. We are here to help.
Allen & Murphy. determined. focused. fearless.
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