Anatomy of a Trial

By the Law Offices of Michael G. O'Neill

This is the sequence for a state court trial. Federal court differs in some respects.

The below sections may occur over a significant course of time, ranging from days, months or even years.

About Jury Selection →

The attorneys usually decide who are in the jury based on information about their basic background, education, place of work, jury duty history, and responses to questions geared toward the case.

Jurors can not have any affiliation to the parties involved in the case.

Jury Selection

6 Jurors are picked (with 2 alternates), counseled on the case, and sworn in.

← About Opening Statements

Each party states their view and what they are trying to prove without opinion or interpretation, thus making it non argumentative.

Opening Statement

Plaintiff tells their side of the story, then the Defendant.

About Witnesses and Exhibits →

The attorney questioning their own witness is called direct examination. The attorney questioning the witness by the other party is called cross examination. Once complete, the plaintiff rests.

Same rules follow on the defendant's turn.

Witnesses and Exhibits

of Plaintiff.

← About Motions

The first motion may be called by the Defendant for the court to consider whether the details provided by the plaintiff are sufficient enough to proceed with the case. If not, the case is dismissed. Otherwise, it proceeds to the next step.

The second motion, after plaintiff rebuttals, may be called by the plaintiff and/or defendant, now that all the evidence has been introduced. The Plaintiff may move for judgment while the Defendant may, again, ask for case dismissal.


Witnesses and Exhibits

of Defendant.

Plaintiff Rebuttals

(if any).


About Closing Arguments →

Unlike opening statements, attorneys are now permitted to be argumentative. Comments and questions are drawn on the evidence to push the jury's consideration on it's worthiness.

Closing Arguments

Defendant goes first, then plaintiff.

← About Jury Deliberation

The Judge gives instructions to the jury that explains what they need to decide and which laws to apply.

The jury needs to answer, on paper, whether the plaintiff proved their case and, if so, what damages should be awarded to the plaintiff.

They deliberate in a room until a decision is made and it is passed to the court officer. The verdict is then read to the court.

Jury Instructions

Jury is told what to make judgment on and which laws to consider.

Jury Decision / Verdict

Decision must be unanimous or 5 to 1.