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Generally, a trial in Raleigh will last one to four days, although some factors which can influence how long the trial is going to take can include the number of issues involved in the case, the number of parties involved in the case, how much evidence one side or the other intends to introduce at the trial, and whether there are multiple parties involved.

Trials do not always involve just one plaintiff and one defendant. In fact, under Raleigh’s Rules of Civil Procedure, multiple plaintiffs can band together if they have claims arising from the same incident against one defendant, which encourages judicial economy. For example, if four people were in a car that was involved in a motor vehicle collision with one driver, instead of four separate lawsuits, the law provides for those four people to come together and file one lawsuit. These individuals do not need to come together, but they have the option to.

There can also be more than one defendant. For example, it could be one motor vehicle collision and the driver is one individual person. However, if that driver works for a company and he was on the job at the time of the accident, then you would have to sue the driver and the company, resulting in multiple defendants.

The Process of a Trial

When a case actually goes to trial, the first thing the attorneys do is select a jury, which will probably take the better part of one day.

Opening Statements

After the jury is seated, the attorneys will give opening statementsThe plaintiff’s lawyer goes first, followed by the defendant’s lawyer. The point of opening statements is not to give evidence, but to give the jury a forecast of the evidence. For instance, the attorney will set the stage by giving the jury some context within which to view the evidence about to be shown. 

Plaintiffs put on their case first because in personal injury cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proof so they put on all of their evidence. The reason is, if for some reason something happened along the way in the trial and some of the evidence did not come through the way the attorney wanted it, then the defendant would have the ability to move to dismiss the case for failing to present evidence on a particular element of the attorney’s claim. Assuming everything goes well with the plaintiff’s case, then the defense has the opportunity to put on evidence if he or she chooses.

Closing Statements

After, there are closing statements. For the closing statements, again, the plaintiff is going to go first. Whether the defendant chose to put on evidence at all will decide who gets what is called last closing. If the defense chooses not to put on evidence, they get last closing, meaning they get the last word with the jury.

If the defendant chooses to put on evidence, then plaintiff gives the first closing statement, the defense lawyer will give his or her closing statement, and then the plaintiff gets something like a second closing argument, so the plaintiff will get the last word with the jury if the defendant chooses to put on the evidence.

For that reason, in some of the simpler cases in North Carolina, you will see defense lawyers opting not to put on any evidence so they can gain the advantage of getting last close.

Important Elements in Trials 

During a trial, it is important to keep an eye on being aware of time, like keeping your presentation moving. The law is an important part of what is going on at a trial, but there is also a bit of the optics.

What does this information look like to a jury? It is important to keep the jury members engaged. Keep the story moving. Keep it interesting. Jurors do not have the luxury of turning the channel, but they can check out mentally. Sometimes lawyers get wrapped up in using legal terms and become hyper-technical. In such cases, the lawyers understand, but maybe the laypeople of the jury will have difficulty understanding.

The Judge and Jury

In North Carolina state courts, the jury pool is citizens from the judicial district where the case is to be tried. Understand, judges are different. Each judge has their own personality when it comes to jury selection. Judges can take a very hands-off approach, play a very limited role in the jury selection, and just supervise the jury selection process to make sure that the lawyers do not step out of bounds

When to Want a Bench Trial

Attorneys will sometimes ask for bench trials when cases are very technical and involve a lot of intricate legal information. These cases generally involve issues that a lawyer would understand and be able to decide easier than a jury of 12 ordinary citizens. In such cases, it might benefit a client to have a judge who is also a lawyer decide the case, rather than having some risk involved with 12 non-lawyers who might not fully understand the complexity of the issues involved in deciding the case.