The Trial Process

When attending a criminal or civil trial, who or what can you expect to see?

The Stages of a Trial

    The judge and attorneys question the jurors sent to the courtroom until a panel of twelve is agreed upon by all sides. The questioning is designed to excuse jurors who might have difficulty in rendering a fair and impartial verdict in that particular case.

    These are brief statements made by the attorneys to the jury in which the attorneys outline the facts as they see them and what they hope to prove. The attorneys are not considered witnesses and their statements are not evidence. The plaintiff's attorney in a civil case or the prosecutor in a criminal case gives the first statement and the defense attorney follows.

    Witnesses for the plaintiff in a civil case or for the prosecution in a criminal case testify first, witnesses for the defense testify next and any rebuttal witnesses testify last. Each witness is sworn to tell the truth. The attorney who calls the witness asks questions in direct examination. The attorney for the opposing side then questions the witness in cross-examination. The purpose of this questioning is to elicit evidence. Exhibits and physical objects such as photographs and x-rays are also presented at this time as evidence.

    This is the final opportunity for the attorneys to address the jury. The plaintiff's attorney in a civil case or the prosecutor in a criminal case proceeds first. The attorney analyzes the evidence and attempts to convince the jury to decide in favor of his or her side of the case. The defense attorney follows with his or her argument, attempting to do the same. Finally, the plaintiff's attorney or prosecutor has the opportunity to present a rebuttal to the defense attorney's argument.

    The judge instructs the jury on the law they must apply in the particular case. Jurors then retire from the courtroom to deliberate in secret. When the jurors reach a verdict, the jury foreman who is elected by fellow jurors informs the deputy sheriff that a decision has been reached. The jury returns to the courtroom and the verdict is read aloud to the parties.

    Trial Participants

      Trial Participant


      Acts as a legal referee to ensure that proper trial procedure is followed and issues rulings on points of law. In a bench trial, the judge gives the verdict in place of a jury.

        Trial Participant


        A Jury is present if demanded in a civil case and present in a criminal case unless waived by the defendant.

        • Once a juror appears for jury duty, the juror is assigned a panel number. Panels are divided randomly into groups of 6 or 18. The juror then takes part in an orientation program explaining the trial process which includes watching an orientation videotape.
        • When a trial is ready to begin, the judge sends the deputy sheriff to the jury room to request potential jurors. The judge generally requests a group of 6, 12, 18 or 36 jurors. Jurors, chosen by panel number, are sent to the courtroom to be questioned by the judge and the attorneys to determine the juror's ability to keep an open mind and be fair. Eventually a jury panel of 12 is selected. In some instances, two alternate jurors are also chosen. They are present throughout the trial but do not deliberate unless taking the place of an absent jury member. Any jurors not selected to sit on the courtroom panel return to the jury room and may be sent to a new courtroom to be questioned for another trial.
        • The Circuit Court operates on a one day or one trial system. This means that if a juror is not selected to serve on a jury by the end of the day, the juror is not required to return the next day. Jury service is considered fulfilled and the juror will not be called for at least another year. However, jurors chosen to sit on a panel in a particular courtroom for a particular trial are required to serve for the duration of that trial.
        • While the trial judge determines the evidence and instructs the jury as to the law, the jurors are responsible for deciding the facts, following the law and rendering a final decision.

        Trial Participant


        The Plaintiff in a civil case is the person who files the complaint.

        Trial Participant


        A person against whom a civil or criminal complaint is filed.

        Trial Participant


        In a criminal case, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office acts as the legal representative of the people of the State of Illinois in prosecuting the accused defendant. Certain cases may be prosecuted by municipal prosecutors.

        Trial Participant


        Someone who gives testimony during the trial relating to the case.

        Trial Participant

        Court Reporter

        The person who records every word spoken during the trial on a stenograph machine or a recording device.

        Trial Participant

        Deputy Sheriff

        The Deputy Sheriff keeps order in the court, guards defendants in criminal cases and maintains custody of the jury.

        Trial Participant


        The Clerk swears in witnesses and maintains court orders and exhibits in a trial.