Trials are a risky, lengthy and very expensive process. Despite what is shown on TV, trials are not dramatic scenes of vindication. They are generally a last resort for both the plaintiff and the defendant. If your case goes to trial, it’s good to know what to expect. Here is a step-by-step guide, adapted from Washington State’s website.
Jury selection is the first step. A pool of jurors is randomly selected from Washington residents. The lawyers ask the jurors questions to determine if they hold any biases that could disqualify them from serving on the jury in your particular case.
The first step in the trial, after the jurors have been sworn in, is the opening statements. The plaintiff’s lawyer goes first since he or she is the one that must establish proof of the defendant’s liability. After that, the defense gives their statement.
Evidence is then presented, first by the plaintiff, in what is called a direct examination. The defense can cross-examine, and then it is their turn to present their own evidence in a direct examination. The plaintiff may then refute this evidence in their rebuttal. Evidence can include testimonies or exhibits.
The jury is then given instructions on how to apply the law to this specific case.
Closing arguments are made, first by the plaintiff, followed by the defense. After the defense’s closing argument, the plaintiff may present a rebuttal.
The jury then goes into a closed room to determine whether the defendant is at fault for causing plaintiff injuries and how much the plaintiff should receive. They are not allowed to make contact with anyone during this time.
When the verdict is returned, if it is a verdict of “guilty” the judge decides the final sentence. If it is a verdict of “not guilty” then the trial is over and the defendant is cleared of any charges against them.
A trial can take anywhere from a week to months to complete. It can be very arduous, so it’s important to find a lawyer who understands the value of a settlement but is prepared to go to trial if necessary.