Anatomy of a Trial
At the time a case is set for trial, a decision must be made as to whether the judge or a jury will decide the case. The use of a jury depends on the type of case and the decisions of the parties involved. Most civil matters and criminal misdemeanor cases may be tried with or without a jury. However, to waive the right to a jury trial in a misdemeanor case, both the prosecutor representing the state and the defendant must agree to waive the jury. Without this agreement of both parties, the trial must be conducted before a jury.
Although the constitution permits the defendant to waive a jury trial and have the case decided by a judge, most felony cases in Idaho are conducted before a jury. Twelve person juries are utilized in the district court.
The anatomy of a trial is substantially the same with or without a jury, except for the voir dire during which the jury members are selected. The voir dire process involves potential jury members being questioned under oath by the lawyers presenting both sides of the matter to ensure a jury is satisfactory to each party. An attorney may challenge a perspective juror for cause or preemptory, without cause. A challenge for cause means that the attorney has found a good reason why a person should not serve as a juror. A preemptory challenge means that the attorney has decided not to put the individual on the jury and does not need to state a reason. The attorneys have a specified number of preemptory challenges.
Once the jury has been impaneled, each side, through their respective attorney, has the opportunity to make an opening statement, thereby commencing the trial. The lawyers during the opening statement outline the elements associated with their case. The defendant may choose to wait to give an opening statement until the beginning of the case.
Upon completion of the opening statements, the plaintiff, in a civil action, or the prosecutor, in a criminal action, presents his or her case. During this time, the plaintiff's witnesses are questioned under direct examination by the plaintiff/prosecutor and under cross-examination by the defendant. Upon completion of his or her case, the plaintiff/prosecutor rests.
At this time, the defendant may present an opening statement, if not done so earlier. The defendant then produces his or her witnesses and evidence. The defendant's attorney questions the defendant's witnesses on direct examination and the plaintiff/prosecutor examines the witness under cross-examination. Upon completion of his or her case, the defendant rests. At this time, the plaintiff/prosecutor may present any rebuttal witnesses. During the presentation of testimony and evidence by either side, objections may be made by the opposing attorney. An objection is a lawyer's argument that evidence should not be heard because it does not bear on the case or is excluded by law. If the judge agrees, or sustains the objection, that information is not included in the record of the trial. If the objection is overruled, the judge did not agree with the lawyer's objection.
Once both sides have finished presenting their case, the judge will instruct the jury on the law as it applies to the testimony and evidence that they have heard and seen. Closing arguments are made to the jury or the judge by the attorney as a final summary of their client's factual and legal position. The jury will then retire to deliberate on the verdict. If the case is being tried without a jury, the court may make a decision immediately or may "take the matter under advisement" and notify all parties of his or her decision at a later date.
Once a trial has been completed and a judgment has been entered, there are a limited number of alternatives available to an individual not satisfied with the result of the trial. Initially, an individual may file certain post-trial motions in which he or she asks for reconsideration and/or relief despite the decision of the court or jury. Failing this, an individual or party dissatisfied with the decision may appeal to the next higher court. Ultimately, the court of last resort in the state of Idaho is the Idaho Supreme Court. Appeals from a decision of the district court are taken to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court may choose to assign that case to the Court of Appeals for review and decision. While decisions of the Court of Appeals may be appealed back to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court is not required to grant a review of the Court of Appeals decision. In most cases, decisions of the Court of Appeals are final.