If you have to go to court, chances are you’re feeling very overwhelmed by the process. There are many different factors to consider, and if you’re unaware of how court cases play out, it’s easy to feel paralyzed. Plus, with over 40 million lawsuits filed annually, there’s plenty of reason to familiarize yourself with the inner workings of a courtroom. To help individuals headed to trial, we discuss the different courtroom roles and participants.
No matter what type of case—civil or criminal—there will be a judge present. The judge will preside over the trial from the bench (a desk) on an elevated platform. He or she will maintain order while simultaneously carrying out the following actions: determine whether evidence used is illegal or improper; provide the jury (if present) instructions about the law; define the facts and decide the case in the absence of a jury; and finally, sentence convicted defendants.
The jury will consist of six to twelve U.S. citizens, who the prosecutor and defense attorney will select; however, the judge has final say over who can serve. The jury will observe the trial and then look through the facts and testimonies given to decide if the defendant is guilty or innocent. The jury must be unanimous in their decision, otherwise, the court considers it a hung jury, and a new trial will take place.
The prosecutor is the government’s or plaintiff’s (the party filing the lawsuit) attorney. The prosecuting attorney begins the trial with an opening statement, which will contain the topic of the trial and the reason(s) as to why the defendant is guilty. They’ll get to present the case to the judge or jury first and make the final closing statement.
The defense attorney is the defendant’s representative. They can obtain this role via the defendant hiring them or the state appointing them. After the prosecution gives their opening statement, the defense attorney will proceed with their own. The goal of this statement is to inform the jury about why the defendant is innocent. Once the prosecution presents its case in its entirety, then the defense will have an opportunity to present. If you’re heading to trial, you’ll want to employ a good West Linn criminal defense and DUII attorney whoknows how to present a case in the best way possible.
In criminal cases, the defendant is the accused person or party. In civil cases, the defendant is the person or party who the plaintiff is suing. Defendants have the right to plead the fifth, meaning that they have the choice to testify or not.
Witnesses give testimonies about the facts in a case that may be in dispute. Depending on the case, there will be a varied number of witnesses for both the defendant and the prosecution. More often than not, the court will subpoena witnesses, meaning they must come to court and testify. In criminal cases, a police officer will almost always be a witness, providing the facts about what they saw at the crime scene.
In civil cases, the court refers to this individual as the plaintiff; however, in criminal cases, they are the victim. This is the person or party filing the lawsuit against the defendant. The plaintiff/victim often testify during the trial since they filed the charge. In some cases, the victim may be able to write their statement rather than appear in court.
From courtroom etiquette to keeping calm on the stand, there’s a lot to understand when a trial is underway. However, with the right defense attorney by your side, it’ll be much easier to make it through this process. Contact Jared Justice if you need help with your case—you won’t regret it!