How Courts Work

Steps in a Trial

Pre-trial Procedures in Civil Cases

Suits begin with the filing of a complaint in the proper court. The person filing the suit is often referred to as the plaintiff ; the person or entity against whom the case is filed is often referred to as the defendant . In some areas of law, such as domestic relations, the person filing the complaint is the petitioner , and the person against whom the case is filed is the respondent.

The complaint states the plaintiff's version of the facts, the legal theory under which the case is brought (negligence, for example), and asks for certain damages or other relief. The plaintiff also files with the court clerk a request that a summons (or notice) be issued to the defendant. In many jurisdictions, the summons will be served by a deputy sheriff or special process server. In other jurisdictions, it may be served by mail. It notifies the defendant that a lawsuit has been filed against him or her.

After being notified, the defendant has a certain period of time to file an answer admitting or denying the allegations made in the complaint.

>>Diagram of How a Case Moves Through the Courts
>>Civil and Criminal Cases
>>Settling Cases
>>Pre-trial Procedures in Civil Cases
>>Jurisdiction and Venue
>>Pleadings
>>Motions
>>Discovery
>>Pre-Trial Conferences
>>Pre-trial Procedures in Criminal Cases
>>Bringing the Charge
>>Arrest Procedures
>>Pre-Trial Court Appearances in Criminal Cases
>>Bail
>>Plea Bargaining
>>Civil and Criminal Trials
>>Officers of the Court
>>The Jury Pool
>>Selecting the Jury
>>Opening Statements
>>Evidence
>>Direct Examination
>>Cross-examination
>>Motion for Directed Verdict/Dismissal
>>Presentation of Evidence by the Defense
>>Rebuttal
>>Final Motions
>>Closing Arguments
>>Instructions to the Jury
>>Mistrials
>>Jury Deliberations
>>Verdict
>>Motions after Verdict
>>Judgment
>>Sentencing
>>Appeals


How Courts Work Home | Courts and Legal Procedure | *Steps in a Trial*
The Human Side of Being a Judge | Mediation

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