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Know the law – What happens during a trial?

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A trial is the process for determining the facts of a dispute, applying the law to those facts and ultimately reaching a decision.

There are two types of trials: civil and criminal. Both types involve the plaintiff (person or entity who brings the claim) and the defendant (person or entity against whom the claim is brought). A civil trial is usually for money damages, while a criminal trial determines the guilt or innocence of a person who has been charged with a crime.

The trial process typically involves jury selection, opening statements, presentation of evidence, closing arguments, jury deliberation and a jury verdict.

When it has been determined that a case will go to trial (many cases are settled out of court), a jury is selected to hear the case. During the jury selection process, attorneys for both sides can ask questions of the potential jurors, to determine who can be fair and impartial. This process is called “voir dire.” Once the jurors are selected, they are sworn in.

After jury selection, the trial begins with the attorneys for both sides offering an opening statement to the jury. An opening statement is basically a short version of the facts and what the evidence is expected to be. Opening statements cannot be considered as evidence.

The judge oversees everything that happens during the trial. There are certain rules that apply called the “Michigan Rules of Evidence.” As each side presents its arguments and its evidence -- including witnesses, documents, photographs and objects -- the evidence rules dictate what is allowed and what is disallowed.

When witnesses are questioned by one side, the attorney for the other side may object to the question that is being asked. The same is true for physical evidence – that is, the attorney for other side may object to the document, photograph or object the attorney wants introduced. When this kind of objection takes place, the judge decides whether the evidence is allowed or disallowed under the evidence rules.

After all the evidence is presented by both sides, the attorneys give their closing arguments to the jury. The closing argument is a summary of each side’s case. Once the closing arguments have been presented, the judge instructs the jury on the laws that apply. The jury then deliberates, applies the law to the facts of the case and makes a decision, called a “verdict.”

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