Initial Publication Date: October 17, 2007

The Trial Process

This webpage presents an overview of the formal processes and proceedings in any civil trial and a link to separate webpage that presents the specific chronology of events in the Woburn Toxic Trial. Links are also available to videoclips of Ohio State University students performing these tasks in a mock trial.

There are four main stages to a trial. In sequence, they are:

  • Pleading Stage - filing the complaint and the defense's motions.
  • Pretrial Stage - discovery process, finding of facts.
  • Trial Stage - seating of the jury, testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs and testimony on behalf of the defendants.
  • Post Trial - concluding arguments, judge's charge to the jury, jury deliberations, announcement of judgment, motions for new trial or appeal.

Pleading Stage

  • Filing a Complaint - In civil proceedings the complaint is the official engagement of the plaintiff with the defense regarding the proposed "injustice" caused by the defense. This is a formal document submitted by the plaintiff to the court having jurisdiction over the complaint.
  • Summons - Notification by the court in which the complaint is filed as an action being brought against the defense. Service of the summons typically requires a response from the defense within a 30-day period. No response from the defense can trigger a default judgment for the plaintiff.
  • Motions to Dismiss - These are the defense's response or answers to the plaintiffs complaint. The responses are typically filed as motions and are intended to dismiss the claims expressed in the complaint.
  • Motion for Judgment - Following the defendants response to the plaintiffs claims, the parties can either choose to settle or request a judgment based on the evidence presented, or the court can decide to continue toward resolving conflict at trial. If there is no judgment made, the case proceeds to the pre-trial stage.

Pretrial Stage

  • Discovery or Finding of Facts - There are generally two aspects of discovery. One consists of a series of questions, known as interrogatory questions, which are posed by the plaintiff's attorney to the defendant's attorney. The other consists of recording a witnesses sworn testimony, known as a deposition. Depositions typically take place outside the courtroom, before a court recorder, with opposing counsel asking questions of the witness.
  • Motion for Summary Judgment - At the conclusion of discovery, the court will typically review the facts of the case and determine if there is sufficient merit to proceed to trial or to encourage the parties to settle. If the finding of facts determines the case to be frivolous or non-substantiated, the case is dismissed.
  • Pretrial Order - If a substantial basis for the case is determined, the court will meet with and notify the parties of the trial schedule.

The Trial

  • Jury Selection - From a pool of potential jurors, individuals are questioned in a process known as voire dire to determine suitability to serve as impartial juror in the specific case. The judge and counsel for both parties are involved in voire dire process, with each party trying to impanel individuals who may be sympathetic to their cause.
  • Opening Statements - Statements to the jury made first by the plaintiffs' attorney and then by the defense attorneys setting up the circumstances and rationale of the legal complaint (plaintiffs) and the reasons for dismissing the claim (defense).

Click here to see a videoclip of opening statements from one of the Ohio State mock trials.

  • Plaintiff Testimony - The first part of the actual trial proceeding consists of the plaintiffs presenting their witnesses and experts to present the arguments and justifications for the complaint. The defense is permitted to cross-examine each witness in an attempt to dismiss, discredit, or disprove the witnesses statements.

Click here to see a videoclip of direct testimony from one of the Ohio State mock trials.

  • Defense Testimony - After the plaintiffs' case is presented, the defendants present their case in much the same way using witnesses and experts that present direct testimony, followed by cross examination by the plaintiffs' counsel.

Click here to see a videoclip of cross examination from one of the Ohio State mock trials.

  • Redirection and Recall - At the discretion of the judge, each witness can be redirected after cross examination by either the counsel. If critical information is not divulged during the initial testimony, counsel can request to recall a witness to the stand for additional questioning and cross examination.
  • Closing Arguments - Counsel for the plaintiffs and defense summarize their clients positions to remind the jurors of the facts presented in their case and to convince the jurors of veracity of their cause. Closing arguments are typically intended to be dramatic and pointed for effect.

Click here to see a videoclip of direct testimony from one of the Ohio State mock trials.

  • Charge to the Jury - The judge orally provides the jury with specific instructions regarding its evaluation of the case. The jury is then dismissed to deliberate, in private, the outcome of the case.

Click here to see a videoclip of the jury charge from one of the Ohio State mock trials.

  • The Verdict - Following deliberation, which may take hours to days, the jury presents their finding(s) to the court.
  • Judgment - Following the receipt of the verdict, the court can rule and concur requesting final judgment, or determine if a new trial is required, or if the case should be dismissed.

Post-Trial Stage

  • Appeals - The party that the court ruled against has the right to file an appeal for the case to be heard in a court at a higher venue.

Handbookgiven to jurors serving in U.S District Courts.

Some of the key issues related to the Woburn Toxic Trial are shown on the time table presented in Chronology of the Woburn Toxic Trial.