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Civil Trial with a Jury

Most civil trials do not involve a jury, but instead are presented to a judge, which is called a "bench trial" or "court trial." If you want a jury trial, you must request a jury and pay a jury fee to the Court in advance of the trial. See MN Statute § 357.021.

Not every civil case can have a jury trial. Rule 38.01 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure says that there is a right to a jury trial, unless waived, "in actions for the recovery of money only, or of specific real or personal property."

Presenting a civil case to a jury involves many complicated steps, including choosing the members of the jury and providing the court with proposed jury instructions at the end of the trial. If you want to have your case presented to a jury, we strongly encourage you to get help from a lawyer.

Read this booklet to learn about the trial process:
Booklet Civil Trial Booklet
What to Expect as a Self-Represented Party in a Civil Trial (without a jury)

Stages of a Civil Jury Trial


Usually, the Plaintiff presents her side of a civil case first, and when the Plaintiff "rests" (finishes presenting her case), the Defendant then has an opportunity to present his side of the case. The common stages of a civil jury trial are listed below.

Trial Stage

Description

Choosing a Jury

Except in cases tried before a judge, one of the first steps in a civil trial is selection of a jury.

The judge and the parties (through their attorneys, if they have them) will question a group of potential jurors. The goal of the questions is to try to understand a juror's beliefs or experiences that might relate to the case.

The judge can excuse (dismiss) potential jurors based on their answers to the questions. The Plaintiff and Defendant can also exclude a certain number of potential jurors.

In civil actions, there are usually 6 people on a jury, up to a maximum of 12.

Opening Statements

When the trial starts, the Plaintiff's attorney (or the Plaintiff if she has no lawyer) usually is the first to give an opening statement. She tells the judge or the jury a summary of the facts of the case, and what she intends to prove during the trial.

The Defendant can give her opening statement right after the Plaintiff, or she can wait until the Plaintiff has finished presenting her evidence. The Defendant's opening statement tells the jury her version of the facts, and sets the stage for responding to Plaintiff's evidence. The Defendant will also present "affirmative defenses," if any exist, to the Plaintiff's claims.

Witness Testimony &
Cross-Exam

This is the main part of a civil trial, where each party presents key evidence (sometimes called the "case-in-chief").

The Plaintiff usually presents her case-in-chief first; she may call witnesses and experts to testify, and introduce physical evidence (like photographs, documents, or medical reports).

The presentation of witness testimony usually follows this pattern:

  • A party calls a witness to the stand, and the witness is "sworn in" (swears or affirms that he will tell the truth).
  • "Direct examination" of a witness is when the party who called the witness to the stand asks questions of& the witness as a way to present evidence that strengthens the party's position in the case.
  • After direct examination, the opposing party can question the witness through "cross-examination." Cross-examination usually must be limited to the matters covered during direct examination. The purpose of cross-examination is to clarify the answers given on direct examination, and it can also be used to challenge the credibility of the witness. If the judge allows, cross-examination may get into additional matters.
  • Next, the party who originally called the witness to the stand has another opportunity to question the witness through "re-direct examination." This is where the party tries to fix any harm done to her case through cross-examination.

After the Plaintiff finishes presenting her case-in-chief (after she "rests"), the Defendant presents her evidence in her case-in-chief.

Once the Defendant has rested, the Plaintiff will have a chance to respond to the Defendant's arguments through "rebuttal," a time when she can contradict the Defendant's evidence.

Throughout the trial, either party may object the questions asked of the witnesses, the answers given, or other evidence being offered.

Closing Arguments

In their Closing arguments, the parties "sum up" their cases. Both parties try to convince the jury that the evidence supports a decision in their favor.

Legal Briefs &
Proposed Orders

The judge may require or allow the Plaintiff and Defendant to file written legal briefs arguing and applying the law to the facts of the case. The judge may also require one or both parties to file a proposed Order, which the judge may sign or amend and sign. Briefs and proposed Orders are challenging for a non-lawyer to prepare, but it may be possible to get samples and help with legal research from a law librarian.

Jury Instructions

After the closing arguments, the judge will give the jury a set of legal standards, called "jury instructions," explaining the criteria needed to decide which side should "win." The judge may require the parties to submit proposed jury instructions to the court.

Jury Deliberation &
Verdict

After receiving the judge's instructions, the group of jurors "deliberates." This means they discuss the case to see if they can agree on whether the Defendant should be held liable based on the Plaintiff's claims. If they answer "yes," they also deliberate on what compensation, if any, the Defendant should pay to Plaintiff.

If the Defendant has made any counter-claims against the Plaintiff, the jury also deliberates on whether the Plaintiff should be held liable for Defendant's counter-claims.

Once the jury reaches a decision, the jury foreperson informs the judge, and the judge calls the parties back to the courtroom where the verdict is announced in open court.

The party who loses a case might be ordered to pay money to the prevailing party (the party who wins). See MN Statute § 549.02.

If the losing party is ordered to pay money to the prevailing party, it is the responsibility of the winning party to collect the money. The court does NOT do the collection for the party. If the losing party does not cooperate and pay voluntarily, collecting the money can be difficult. For more information on the collection process, see the Judgments section on this website.

 

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