Arizona Judicial Branch

Course of a Trial

Following is the course of a trial . . .

1. Civil Cases
After the jury has been sworn to try the case, the trial proceeds. Usually each trial consists of the following stages:

A. An opening statement is made by lawyers for the plaintiff(s) (the party bringing the suit). The lawyers for the defendant(s) (the party against whom the suit is brought) may make an opening statement at this time or at the close of the plaintiff's evidence. An opening statement is an outline of what the lawyer thinks the evidence will be and is offered to help jurors understand and follow the evidence during the trial. An opening statement is not an argument, and what the lawyers say in their opening statements is not evidence.

B. The plaintiff offers evidence to prove the plaintiff's case.

C. The defendant offers evidence to disprove the plaintiff's case and establish the defendant's case.

D. The plaintiff is then allowed to offer evidence to rebut or refute new material presented by the defendant.

E. After all the evidence has been presented, the lawyers make their final arguments or closing statements to the jury. In the final argument, the lawyer for each party sums up the facts as he/she sees them in proving their client's case, and presents for consideration to the jury the reasons and arguments favoring the client's position. These arguments give the jury an opportunity to better understand the case and thus help them in arriving at a verdict. What the lawyers say in their closing arguments is not evidence.

F. Either before or after the argument of the lawyers, the judge instructs the jury on the law governing the case. It is the jury's duty to follow and apply the instructions given by the judge as to the law.

G. Bailiffs are then sworn to take charge of the jury and escort them from the courtroom to the jury deliberating room. The jury elects a foreperson to preside over its deliberations until a verdict based upon the law and evidence is reached.

H. After the verdict is reached in the jury room, and if the verdict is unanimous, the foreperson signs the verdict. If the verdict is not unanimous, the jurors agreeing with the verdict sign their names to the verdict. Then all of the jurors return to the courtroom where the verdict is received. In some cases each juror will be asked if he/she concurs with the verdict. This is called "polling the jury.  When polling the jury, the judge and clerk do not identify individual jurors by name.

2. Criminal Cases
The order of events mentioned for civil cases are applicable to the trial of criminal cases with the following exceptions:

A. In criminal cases the State of Arizona is the plaintiff and is represented by a lawyer from the County Attorney's office or the Attorney General's office.
B. The verdict of the jury in a criminal case must be unanimous and is signed only by the foreperson.

3. Questioning of Witnesses
Each witness at the trial, before testifying, is sworn to tell the truth. Questions on direct examination and on cross-examination are asked by the lawyers to arrive at the truth. The judge may also question the witnesses directly. Jurors may not question witnesses directly. Jurors may submit written questions for witnesses to the judge.

4. Objections to Evidence
Occasionally, the lawyers for one side will object to a question asked or an exhibit offered by the other side. Under the law, lawyers are within their rights to object to the introduction of any evidence which they believe is improper. At times the judge will hear arguments on these objections out of the hearing of the jury. If the judge thinks the evidence objected to is not proper, the judge will sustain the objection and not allow the evidence. If the judge thinks the lawyer is mistaken in the objection, the judge will overrule the objection and allow the evidence. In either event, the matter to be decided is a legal question which the judge alone must decide. Objections by the lawyers, or the ruling of the judge with regard to them, should not cause the jury to favor one side or the other.