I'm sitting here at my desk getting ready to leave after putting in a long evening at the office getting ready for trial. I thought this would be an appropriate time to briefly discuss what to expect at trial.
The first thing that must be accomplished is picking a jury. Now, there are many theories and practices out there about picking a jury. In my opinion, there isn't much science to it; at least not in Maine. That's because in Maine, the judge asks the questions (voire dire) to the potential jurors. In other states such as Texas, the attorney can engage in a lengthy question and answer period to determine who is and is not a good fit for their case. What that means is is that there is ample opportunity to tell the jurors your client's side of the story before the case actually is heard. Unfortunately that's not the case in Maine.
So, you pick a jury and the next thing that happens is each side gets to give an opening statement. Opening statements are not arguments. Arguments are expressly reserved for closing statements. Rather, the opening statement is an opportunity to give the jury a roadmap or preview of the case. IE, what you think the facts in the case will show.
After opening statements are complete, the jury hears from the prosecution witnesses first. The witness(s) tell their story or their observations through a direct examination put on by the prosecutor. After the direct examination, the defense attorney is allowed to ask questions. This line of questioning is called a cross-examination.
Often times during a trial, one of the attorneys will make objections. Objections are normally made when one side feels there is a problem with the manner in which evidence is being introduced or that there is a problem with the evidence itself, such as reliability. The Judge rules on the objection(s) and either sustains the objection (grants it) or over rules the objection. Depending on how the judge rules, the evidence may or may not come in.
After the prosecution is done presenting its case, the defense is allowed to put on its case. Keep in mind that the burden of proof is always on the State and the defendant is not required to produce any evidence or witnesses. Oftentimes in criminal cases, the only witnesses may be the victim, a police officer, a civilian witness and the defendant himself. More often than not, the defendant does not take the stand to testify. That's because the law shields the defendant from being compelled to testify and in most cases, it is in the defendant's best interests not to testify.
Finally, closing arguments are made by both sides. After closing arguments, the judge instructs the jury on the law and the jury retires to deliberate. Once the jury has reached a verdict, the defendant stands to receive the verdict. Hopefully, the verdict announced is not guilty.
Trials take an enormous amount of time to prepare. Oftentimes, there are numerous witnesses to prepare for cross-examination, evidence to review, arguments to be formulated and A/V equipment to run. You want your trial handled in a competent, professional manner. Trying out a new A/V gadget for a trial is a bad idea.
Because of the amount of time that goes into trial preparation, fees are generally higher for those cases as the lawyer's fees reflect the amount of work that is anticipated to go into the case. People are often surprised at the fees I quote but normally that is because clients have unrealistic expectations. That's why it is important to discuss fees at the first meeting so the client can know what to expect.
Personally, I have 2 jury trials lined for next week. I am picking 1 DUI jury Friday and 1 DUI trial on Monday in different courthouses. The amount of work and time to prepare for trial is enormous but the satisfaction I get when I win makes it all worth while. Wish me luck. The next week is going to be tough!