Maryland trials follow formal rules and procedures. Here are the basics. . .
Before the trial begins, the judge will deal with “preliminary matters” if there are any. These are such things as last minute motions raising technical legal issues.
After preliminary matters are resolved, jury selection begins. (Of course, if the trial will be decided by the judge without a jury, there is no jury selection process.)
Potential Jurors Are Sworn
Potential jurors are brought into the courtroom and sworn in. The oath is that they will give true answers to the questions they are asked. After the jurors are sworn, the judge explains the jury selection process.
Questioning Of The Potential Jurors
The potential jurors are asked questions in a process called voir dire. The judge almost always asks the questions which are normally based on requests made by the lawyers. Although the judge can allow lawyers to question potential jurors under Maryland law, most Maryland judges ask the questions instead of the lawyers.)
Any potential juror who discloses that they cannot be fair are excused by the judge “for cause.”
In addition, after the questioning is complete, each lawyer can exercise up to four “peremptory challenges” to eliminate jurors. No reason is needed.
The first six jurors who were not challenged by either side are seated as the jury in a civil case. (Criminal juries have 12 jurors.) If the case will last more than one day, the judge will probably seat one or more alternate jurors. The alternates hear all the evidence and replace any juror who becomes ill or, for any other reason, cannot complete the trial. When jury deliberation begins at the end of the case, alternates who have not become one of the six jurors are excused. In other words, they do not participate in deciding the case.
After jurors are selected, they take another oath to fairly try the case.
After this is done, the next step is for the lawyers to make “opening statements.”
The lawyer for the plaintiff — the party who filed the case — speaks first. After that, the lawyer for the defendant — the person being sued — makes an opening statement. Alternatively, the defense lawyer can choose to wait until after the plaintiff’s case is over to make an opening statement. (Most defense lawyers choose to make their opening statement at the beginning of the trial.)
The purpose of the opening statement is to tell the jurors what the evidence in the case will be. For this reason, opening statements are often compared to road maps or tables of contents.
After opening statements, the evidence is presented, beginning with the plaintiff.
Evidence consists of testimony given from the witness stand and exhibits introduced into evidence.
When a witness is called to testify, the lawyer who called the witness questions first. This is called direct examination. Then, the other lawyer can ask questions in what is called cross examination. After the second lawyer questions the witness, the first lawyer can ask more questions in a re-direct examination. Then the second lawyer can ask more questions in a re-cross examination, and so on. Sound confusing? Well, basically, the the lawyers take turns until they run out of questions. The judge can also ask questions. Some do and some don’t.
Exhibits can be introduced by each side. The opposing lawyer can object to exhibits and if they do the judge rules on the objection.
When the plaintiff finishes calling all the witnesses and offering all the exhibits that it wants, it “rests.”
At that point, the defendant can make a motion arguing that the judge should end the trial because the plaintiff has not proven its case. If the judge grants this motion, the trial is over. However, judges usually deny such motions.
Next, the defendant presents its evidence, calling witnesses and introducing exhibits.
After the defense “rests” its case, the plaintiff can present “rebuttal evidence” to contradict the defense case.
After all the evidence has been submitted, the Judge tells the jurors the law that applies to the case. The jurors are told to accept the law as it is given to them by the judge, decide the facts and reach conclusions about the issues in the case.
The plaintiff’s lawyer makes the first closing argument. Then, the defense lawyer makes a closing argument. Finally, the plaintiff’s lawyer makes another argument. The plaintiff’s lawyer gets the advantage of speaking first and last because the plaintiff has the burden of proving the case.
After arguments are completed, the jurors go into the jury deliberation room to make their decision which must be unanimous.
To learn more about Maryland trials, contact us.