Civil Trial Process

Civil trials, much like criminal trials, follow a rigid process of events when attempting to reach a verdict. A civil lawsuit procedure consists of the rules by which courts carry out civil trials. Following the pre-trial discovery period, jury selection process, and a continued inability of parties to reach a resolution outside the courts, plaintiff and defendants will present their contentions before a judge and jury in a civil trial. If you or someone you know is entering a civil trial, it is important to understand what is a civil court case, and the process to expect.

The order of events in the process of civil trials includes:

  • Opening statements
  • Presentation of evidence by plaintiff
  • Direct examination of witnesses
  • Cross-examination of witnesses
  • Dismissal motions, or motion for direct verdict
  • Presentation of evidence by defendant
  • Rebuttals by plaintiff
  • Final motions from defendant and plaintiff
  • Closing arguments by defendant and plaintiff

Opening Statements

During the section of a civil trial known as the opening statements phase, plaintiff and defendants parties will discuss in the courts a number of facts and matters related to the case at hand and attempt to give all parties present an idea of the disputes in contention. Throughout a civil trial, plaintiffs will seek to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that defendant parties somehow committed wrongdoing in the dispute being heard by the judge and jury.

Plaintiff Evidence Presentations

In attempting to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant or defendants committed wrongdoing, plaintiffs have two forms of evidence that are permissible in the courts, including direct and circumstantial evidence. Factual evidence is known as direct evidence, which is seemingly prima facie in itself. Circumstantial evidence, however, attempts to infer or insinuate facts to a judge and jury and may suggest the wrongdoings of defendant parties.

Direct and Cross Examination of Witnesses

As part of the presentation of evidence by plaintiffs, witnesses will be called to the stand for direct examination. During this phase, plaintiff attorneys will pose questions to witnesses surrounding the dispute in contests, as well as in some instances, solicit the opinions and conclusions of expert witnesses on a specific matter.

During the cross examination of witnesses, defendant attorneys will seek to impeach, or otherwise discredit, the testimony of witnesses in a number of manners including questioning their moral turpitude, or history of being honest. Additionally, attorneys cross-examining witnesses may produce leading questions that will attempt to promote inconsistencies in a witness' testimony during the direct examination phase.

Presentation of Defense Evidence

At the conclusion of the plaintiff's presentation of evidence, the defense will attempt to motion for dismissal or a directed verdict of the suit by the judge for the inability of the plaintiff to produce a preponderance of the evidence proving their liability. Typically, a judge will deny this motion, and the defense must proceed in presenting their contentions and evidence. Additionally, defense attorneys in a civil case can present witnesses, directly examine them, and re-cross examine previous witnesses.

Plaintiff Rebuttal and Closing Arguments

Following the defense presentation of evidence, plaintiffs are afforded to opportunity to refute these claims through the rebuttal phase of a civil trial. After this phase is complete, each side, plaintiff and defendant, may make final motions to the judge, which may request a directed verdict and avoid sending the jury into deliberations. Generally, however, judges will deny these motions in the vast majority of cases, and so, both sides will prepare closing arguments to the jury.

In the closing arguments phase, both sides will issues summations, or seek to review and reiterate are pertinent points of the case to the jury or judge. Additionally, the lawyers and attorneys cannot introduce anything new during this phase that has not otherwise been mentioned previously in the civil trial. Typically, the plaintiff will first issue their closing arguments, followed by the defense's presentation of their closing arguments. Following this, the plaintiffs have one last opportunity to appeal to the judge or jury, known as the closing argument rebuttal, which will again seek to refute the closing arguments of the defense. At this point, both sides rest and the judge will issue instructions to the jury on rendering a verdict.