Handbook for Trial JurorsServing the United States District Court
The Eight Stages of Trial
The trial proceeds when the jury has been sworn. There are usually eight stages of trial in civil cases. They are:
(1) The lawyers present opening statements. Sometimes the opening statements on behalf of one or more parties are omitted.
(2) Plaintiff calls witnesses and produces evidence to prove its case.
(3) Defendant may call witnesses and produce evidence to disprove the plaintiff’s case and to prove the defendant’s claims.
(4) Plaintiff may call rebuttal witnesses to disprove what was said by the defendant’s witnesses.
(5) Closing arguments are made by the lawyer on each side.
(6) The judge instructs or charges the jury as to the law.
(7) The jury retires to deliberate.
(8) The jury reaches its verdict.
During the trial, witnesses called by either side may be cross-examined by the lawyers on the other side.
Throughout the trial, the judge may be asked in the presence of the jury to decide questions of law. Usually these questions concern objections to testimony that either side wants to present. Occasionally, the judge may ask jurors to leave the courtroom briefly while the lawyers present their legal arguments for and against such objections. The law requires that the judge decide such questions.
A ruling by the judge does not indicate that the judge is taking sides. He or she is merely saying, in effect, that the law does, or else does not, permit that question to be asked.
It is possible that the judge may decide every objection favorably to the plaintiff or the defendant. That does not mean the case should be decided by the jury for the plaintiff or the defendant. Even where the judge decides every objection favorably to the plaintiff or the defendant, the jury should maintain its objectivity and base its verdict strictly upon the testimony and exhibits received in evidence at trial.
The juror takes an oath to decide the case "upon the law and the evidence." The law is what the judge declares the law to be. The evidence which you will consider consists of the testimony of witnesses and the exhibits admitted in evidence. What evidence is proper for the jury to consider is based upon the law of evidence.