What is the order of events in the courtroom?
Each state and court may have variations on this, but this is generally the order of events:
- The judge, clerk, or bailiff will call your case. In some courts, a mediator might first talk with you, and then with the other party, to see if you might be able to reach an agreement without a trial.
- In a criminal case or in other types of formal or more complicated cases, the judge might ask the parties to give opening statements. This is your chance to talk about what evidence you will show at trial and how you want the judge or jury to rule, based on that evidence.
- In less formal proceedings, the bailiff or the clerk will swear you and the other party in by asking you both to state your names and to swear or affirm to tell the truth.
- The party that filed the first court papers, usually called the complaint or the petition, is considered the plaintiff or the petitioner. The plaintiff/petitioner will tell his/her side of the story first. This includes the party’s testimony, calling any witnesses s/he may have, and entering any evidence that s/he has. We have more detailed information about this process in the rest of this section.
- The other party or his/her lawyer may ask you and your witnesses questions as part of cross-examination, which you must answer truthfully. You may have the right to object to certain questions that the other party asks.
- If your witnesses testimony was damaged during cross examination, you may be able to ask clarifying questions during re-direct.
- The judge might also ask questions to you or to any other witnesses.
- Next, the other party, who will usually be known as the defendant or respondent, will be allowed to present his/her case. S/he can testify and tell his/her side of what happened, call witnesses, and enter his/her evidence. It may be very different from yours. The same principles apply as mentioned earlier, about the right to ask cross examination questions and make objections during the abuser’s testimony, if legally appropriate.
- The judge might then ask for closing statements, or not, depending on the court and the type of case. Closing statements are your chance to sum up the evidence and ask the judge again for a specific decision.
- The judge will make a decision after hearing both sides and considering the evidence. The judge may make the decision right away or may take a recess to give the decision. The recess may be only for a few hours or it may take days or weeks to give the final decision.
- If your case is for a restraining order. The judge may grant you and sign the final restraining order that day at your hearing. If so, then make sure you get a copy, review it, and ask the judge if you have any questions about it. If the judge is not giving his/her decision that day, make sure to ask the judge to extend your temporary restraining order if you have one.