An Introduction to the Civil Court System
Welcome to court! Now what?
- The plaintiff is someone who brings a case against someone else.
- The defendant is the accused in the case.
- The jury helps to decide the verdict based on the evidence provided in the trial.
- The judge is the person who presides over the case, controls how the case unfolds and is presented, and issues the final verdict and sentence in a case.
A court case begins with a complaint being filed, followed by a summons. A summons simply states when the individual is to appear before a judge in court and offer their plea. These together are called the pleadings. When the individual appears in court and the charges are stated is called the initial appearance. The initial appearance is generally combined with the arraignment, where the defendant is allowed to offer their plea.
Between the arraignment and the trial is the pretrial conference, where several things happen. Held before the judge or a magistrate, this helps to avoid unnecessary pretrial activities, makes it easier for the judge to manage the case, and this is also where an agreement can be made. If an agreement cannot be made to avoid trial, mediation may be used. This is where intervention is used to help the parties come to an agreement. Similarly, arbitration, where an arbitrator is brought in for intervention, may also be used
If an agreement cannot be made, the case goes to trial. The accused individual is tried before a judge and jury, where they decide guilt or innocence based on the evidence introduced during the court session. Any evidence used must meet the preponderance of evidence, or the standard of proof required by the court. Some cases may also be presented to the judge and jury to help make a decision in the case, such as in custody cases, lawsuits, and tort cases. At the end of the trial, the jury decides the final verdict and the judge announces the final decision and the sentencing, or punishment for the offense, such as jail time or community service.
If the defendant feels there was a miscarriage of justice (an innocent person was wrongly convicted), that the verdict was not thoroughly supported by the provided evidence, or that the judge violated the law, they can appeal the case to have it reviewed by a higher court.