Courtroom drama has long captured the imagination of readers of novels and viewers of television programs and movies. While some people have seen real trials by serving as jurors or by litigating their own cases, most people have seen only fictional trials.
These dramatic portrayals make for great entertainment but are usually somewhat unrealistic. After all, on TV, a case is investigated and litigated all within a single episode. But in reality, we haven’t seen a real lawyer yet that gives a closing argument in 30 seconds as they do on television!
Whatever a person’s exposure is to the legal system, we understand that the idea of a personal injury trial is stressful for most people. Of course, part of this stress is the fear of the unknown. Therefore, in this article, we’ll try to provide a little insight into how the litigation process works in Oregon.
Much Work is Done Outside the Courtroom
Good trial lawyers know that cases are won and lost by what happens outside the courtroom just as much as by what happens inside the courtroom. Attorneys must carefully investigate cases, conduct discovery, locate and subpoena fact witnesses, and assemble many types of evidence, including photographs, diagnostic images, medical records, and other documents. Often, expert witnesses must be retained to help a jury understand complicated issues. Attorneys also spend time interviewing and deposing the opposing party’s witnesses to avoid surprise at trial.
During or after preparation of the case for trial, the parties typically have a number of settlement discussions. Parties may also attend mediation in an effort to resolve the case. If no settlement can be reached, the parties will work with the court to schedule a time for trial.
As it becomes more apparent that a case will proceed to trial, the attorney will determine if pre-trial motions need to be filed. These motions can cover numerous issues, such as whether certain forms of evidence should be permitted or excluded. Parties may also make legal arguments seeking to limit the claims made by the opposing party. Many of these motions are technical in nature, making it very risky for a party to proceed without an attorney.
The first step in starting a trial is selecting the jury that will hear the case. This process is usually referred to as voir dire. Both attorneys will be permitted to ask a number of questions to the panel of potential jurors. Each attorney is permitted to exclude or “strike” a specific number of jurors that the attorney believes are biased or more likely to favor the other side of the case. The jurors that are left after each side exercises its strikes will make up the jury that hears the case.
Voir dire can sometimes move very slowly, but it is very important for choosing the fairest jury possible.
After a jury is selected, the court will allow each party to make an opening statement. This is the attorney’s chance to present a “roadmap” of the case to the jury – in other words, to tell the jury what the facts are expected to show. The opening statement should not be argumentative but rather informative.
The plaintiff (or injured party) will have the burden of proof, and therefore gets to present his or her case first. The plaintiff will call witnesses who provide direct testimony. The plaintiff can also present documents, photographs, and other evidence. The defendant’s attorney is permitted to cross-examine each witness called by the plaintiff. When the plaintiff is finished, he or she “rests” the case.
After the plaintiff rests, the defendant puts up his or her case. As with the plaintiff’s case, this can include witnesses and other forms of evidence. The plaintiff has the opportunity to cross-examine each defense witness. The defendant then rests when the defense is finished.
This is the part of the case frequently dramatized in movies. The lawyers tell the jury what they think the evidence proves and are permitted to be argumentative. The lawyers also tell the jury what result is being requested.
Jury Charge, Deliberation, and Verdict
After closing arguments are completed, the judge informs the jury about the law that must be applied to the case. This is called “charging” the jury. The jury then retires to the jury room, makes factual determinations, and applies the facts they find to the law charged to them by the Court. Once the jury reaches an agreement, they complete a verdict form which will be read in open court.
Call with Questions
The process of a jury trial may sound a little complicated, but jury trials are a great American tradition that gives everyone a chance to fairly resolve civil disputes. Through this process, wrongdoers can be held accountable for their actions by a group of their peers.
The personal injury attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are experienced litigators and have tried many personal injury cases in Oregon. If you have been injured by the negligence of another person and have questions, or if you have questions about the process of a jury trial, please call us and we will be happy to answer them.