We have all seen TV shows and movies where there is a trial with the Judge, the attorneys, the jury and the court reporter. In Virginia, the only required people are the Judge, the person bringing the charges and the person answering the charges. If the case is being heard in the District Court there is not even a place for a jury to sit, and the parties are often standing right in front of the Judge.
In a criminal trial, the person bringing the charges is either the prosecutor or the police officer. In other words, the ‘state’. In a civil trial, the person bringing the charges is called a ‘plaintiff’ and if somebody owes you money, you would be the ‘plaintiff’.
The person who is answering the charges is called the ‘defendant’ whether it is a criminal or civil case. In our example, that would be the person who owes you the money.
The Judge is the person who makes the decision, and he or she makes that decision based on the facts of the case as they are presented at the trial, and how those facts fit into the existing laws.
In the case of the Warrant in Debt that was discussed in Part 1, you have probably already presented the ‘Bill of Particulars’ which tells the defendant why you think they owe you money, and the defendant has probably already provided the ‘Grounds of Defense’ which tells you why they think they don’t owe you the money. These documents give the Judge the outline of the case, but you still need to provide evidence so the Judge can make a decision.
The evidence can be documents, things, or testimony of people that have knowledge of the facts of the case. There are special rules which control what evidence can be admitted for the Judge to review.
Even if you are not an attorney, you are going to be bound by the rules of evidence when you are in a trial. This is another reason why it is sometimes helpful to have an attorney instead of representing yourself. The main things to remember are that the evidence needs to be relevant and truthful.
If the evidence is testimony of a person, that person will need to raise his or her right hand and swear or affirm that the testimony they will give is the truth. If the person gives untruthful testimony while under oath, they can be found guilty of perjury, which is a criminal offense all by itself.
Oral testimony is usually given as a series of questions and answers. Remember that there is no arguing! If you think the person is not telling the truth, you can ask another question or ask the same question in a different manner, but you cannot get into a shouting match like you did when you were a kid.
Also, remember that a person can only provide evidence about what he or she saw, heard, or said themselves. They cannot testify that ‘Susie told me…’ because that is called ‘hearsay’ and the judge can’t use that as evidence when making the decision.
If the evidence is a ‘thing’ you will need to first prove that the ‘thing’ is what you say it is before it can be introduced. This is called ‘laying the foundation’. For example, if I wanted to introduce a copy of the contract, I would first ask ‘I’m showing you a document. Is this the contract that was signed by you and the defendant’?
Each side gets a chance to put forth their evidence and then the Judge will allow each side to make a statement about why they think they should win. Then the Judge makes the decision.
In Virginia, you have 10 days in which to appeal any decision by a District Court Judge. If either side notes an appeal, the whole trial will be done over again in the Circuit Court before a different Judge. You don’t need to present exactly the same evidence at the appeal trial, but a lot of the evidence will be the same. You might also change your tactic a little based on what the other side did in the District Court trial.
In our example, if the Judge decides that the person does owe you the money, and there was no appeal, you will now have a ‘judgment’. You won! But the judgment is really just a piece of paper saying that the other person owes you some money. You can’t usually take this piece of paper to the gas station or the grocery store to buy things. Actually getting the money can take some additional steps.
If you have any questions about this or any other legal subject, please feel free to give us a call at 757-234-4650 or visit our website at http://www.BeaversLaw.com.