Maryland trials are governed by formal rules and procedures. Here are the basics.
After those are resolved, jury selection begins, if yours is a jury trial.
The potential jurors are brought into the courtroom and sworn in. The judge makes introductory comments, explaining what the case is about and the jury selection procedures that will be followed. You will probably be introduced to the prospective jurors, being asked to stand.
Then, the potential jurors are asked questions in what is called voir dire. In Maryland trials, the judge almost always asks the questions, usually based on questions requested by the lawyers for each side.
In other states, the lawyers often get to question potential jurors directly, but not normally in Maryland trials, and this is a significant disadvantage for Maryland trial lawyers.
If any jurors reveal that they cannot be fair, they are excused “for cause.”
Using information gleaned through voir dire and the little bit of information provided about each potential juror such as name, address, age, occupation and education, your lawyer can strike (excuse) up to four potential jurors for no reason or for any reason, and your lawyer does not have to say what the reasons are. He or she simply exercises a “peremptory challenge” and eliminates a juror.
The first six jurors who were not stricken by either side are seated as the jury in a civil case. If the case will last more than 1 day, the judge will probably also seat 1 or more alternate jurors. The alternates will hear all of the evidence and will replace any jurors who cannot complete the case for any reason, such as illness. When jury deliberation begins at the end of the case, the alternates who have not become one of the 6 jurors are excused. They do not participate in deciding the case.
After the jury is selected, Maryland trials begin with “opening statements.”
The lawyer for the plaintiff — the party bringing the suit — speaks first, followed by the lawyer for the defendant — the person being sued. Or, the defense lawyer can elect to wait until after the plaintiff’s case is over to make an opening statement. Most defense lawyers make an opening statement at the beginning of the trial.
Opening statements (not opening “arguments”) in Maryland trials are designed to tell the jurors what the lawyers think the evidence will be. They are often compared to road maps or tables of contents.
The next step in Maryland trials is that the evidence is presented, beginning with the evidence of the plaintiff.
Evidence consists of testimony given from the witness stand and exhibits that are introduced.
When a witness is called to testify, the lawyer who called the witness questions first. This is called direct examination. Then, the other lawyer can ask questions in what is called cross examination. After the second lawyer questions the witness, the first lawyer can ask more questions in a re-direct examination. Then the second lawyer can ask more questions in a re-cross examination, and so on. Basically, the questioning continues in alternating fashion until the lawyers run out of questions. The judge is also allowed to ask questions. Some do and some don’t.
Most exhibits at Maryland trials are introduced through witnesses. The lawyer who wants the exhibit to go into evidence offers it into evidence. If the other lawyer opposes the exhibit being considered by the jury, that lawyer objects and the judge rules on the objection.
When the plaintiff finishes calling all of the witnesses and introducing all of the exhibits that it wants, it “rests.”
Unless the judge rules that the plaintiff has not proven a case — in which case the trial is over — the next step in Maryland trials is that the defendant presents its evidence, calling witnesses and introducing exhibits. The same procedures are followed for the examination of witnesses and introduction of evidence as are followed when the plaintiff is presenting evidence.
After the defense finishes its case, the plaintiff can present “rebuttal evidence” to rebut (or contradict) the defense case.
After all of the evidence has been presented in Maryland trials, there may be a break so that the judge can decide what instructions on the law to give to the jury.
Instructions involve the judge telling the jurors the law that applies to the case. The jurors are told to accept this law as it is given to them by the judge, decide the facts and reach conclusions about the case.
In most other states, the closing arguments of the lawyers precede the judge’s instructions on the law, but in Maryland trials the instructions come before the closing arguments.
The first closing argument is made by the lawyer for the plaintiff. Then the defense lawyer makes a closing argument. Finally, the lawyer for the plaintiff gets the last word. The plaintiff’s lawyer speaks first and last because it is the plaintiff that has to prove the case. If the plaintiff does not prove his or her case, the plaintiff loses. Therefore, the plaintiff’s lawyer gets the advantage of arguing first and last.
After arguments are completed, if the judge has not already done so, the judge explains a little more about how deliberations are to be conducted and then the jurors retire to the jury deliberation room to make their (unanimous) decision.
To learn more about Maryland trials, contact us.