What Happens in a Car Crash Jury Trial in Jefferson County, Kentucky?
It is rare that a case goes to trial. I sometimes hear about the “good old days” when every other week a lawyer was trying a case in the courthouse. I’m not sure if that is an effective method given the amount of cases currently in Jefferson County, Kentucky, but in any case its not going to happen again for a variety of reasons. The most relevant is probably mediation. A lot of cases resolve at mediation or at the courthouse steps. That is the discussion of another post. By way of background: mediation, the unpredictability of juries, insurance companies avoiding risk, and plaintiffs wanting to know exactly how they will be compensated have combined to result in less jury trials.
I’ve tried a case each month for the past three months. When we have downtime and the jury isn’t present somebody inevitably asks how many trials have taken place this year. My review is that the average division tries between four and eight civil cases a year. There are thirteen divisions.
So what happens when your case goes to trial.
Depending on the division you will show up at either 10AM or in the afternoon. The judge is going to have other cases on the docket, but will try to move them along to get the jury seated. The first step is any pre-trial motions that haven’t already been decided. This includes motions in limine. That is basically one lawyer arguing that the other lawyer can’t argue something to the jury. For example, the defense will inevitably file a motion in limine to prevent anyone from mentioning insurance.
Once the pre-trial motions are over the court will ask both parties if they are ready for trial. Both parties will presumably say yes and then a jury will be brought up from the second floor. The jury will be seated in the back of the courtroom and the judge will go over some preliminaries: what is this case about, can everyone understand English, is anyone excused, is anyone a convicted felon. General stuff.
The judge will then allow the plaintiff lawyer to ask questions of the jury through a process called voir dire, or as a normal person would call it, jury selection. Once the plaintiff lawyer is finished the defense lawyer will be given the opportunity to ask questions. That will usually last less than two hours for both parties.
The judge will then dismiss the jury and ask the parties is they have a motion to strike any of the jurors for cause. What is really being asked is did anyone tell you something in jury selection that shows they can’t be fair and impartial during this trial. Rulings will be made based on what the potential jurors said.
My experience has been the judge will then randomly select a bunch of numbers and cull the total amount to around nineteen people. Each party will then be given four strikes to get rid of jurors they don’t particularly like. The parties will submit them for review and the clerk will take them out of the running upon the judges instruction.
Jurors will come back in the room. Those chosen will move forward and take their seats in the jury box at the front of the courtroom.
You are likely at lunch time now. Time for a break.
Upon return to the courtroom the judge will swear in the jurors by asking them to commit to hearing the case based on the facts and evidence.
Case in Chief
Once the jury is sworn the judge will ask the plaintiff lawyer to make an opening. The purpose of an opening is to lay out what you expect the evidence will show. The purpose of an opening is not to have either lawyer argue their case. Plaintiff finishes the opening and then the defense lawyer gets the same opportunity. Both parties may object when the other party is making an opening.
The Plaintiff will then put on his witnesses. This can take a few hours or a few months. Direct examination of the witnesses means the plaintiff’s lawyer cannot “lead” the witness and needs to ask questions pursuant to the rules of evidence. Once the witness is done being directed the defense will have the chance to cross examine the witness. Plaintiff will then get to re-direct the witness based on the cross examination. This will go on and on until the Plaintiff has called all of the witnesses they intend to call.
The plaintiff will then rest his or her case in the view of the jury. The judge will ask the parties to approach and the defense will most likely move for a judgment on the evidence. The defense will basically argue that the plaintiff hasn’t proved his case and no reasonable juror would hold in the favor of the plaintiff.
The Defense Puts on a Case and Closings
If this motion gets denied the defendant will have the opportunity to put on a case. It will go the same way with the defense directing the witness, but this time around the Plaintiff will do the cross examination.
When the defendant is finished they will rest their case and most likely make another movement for a judgement on the evidence.
If the judge denies the motion than the jurors will be sent out of the courtroom so the judge and the lawyers can discuss the jury instructions.
The judge will be the ultimate say on the jury instructions and when they are ready the judge will call the jury back in and read them the instructions. Once the instructions are finished the defense lawyer will make their closing argument. When that is finished the plaintiff lawyer will make his or her closing argument.
The jury will then be taken by the deputy sheriff to the jury deliberation room in the back of the courthouse (on the same floor usually) and then the deputy sheriff will return to the courtroom to get the evidence to bring to the jury.
The jury will deliberate and send questions if they have them to the judge via the bailiff. The last three cases I’ve tried the jury has asked about insurance. Judge will instruct jury that insurance is not meant to take part in their deliberation.
When the jury is done deliberating they will inform the deputy sheriff. Deputy sheriff will then tell the judge and all of the jurors will be brought into the jury box. The foreperson will hand the verdict to the deputy sheriff who will hand it to the judge for review. Once reviewed the judge will read the verdict.
The jurors will be thanked for their service and released from that trial. The judge will then entertain any post verdict motions from the parties.
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