Many of our Quad Cities readers probably have a basic idea of how trials work in our nation’s judicial system. After all, there is no shortage of courtroom dramas on TV or in the movies. But, reality is quite different than what we see on our TVs. Understanding the basics of a trial in civil litigation can help Iowa residents prepare for how their case will be handled.
Perhaps, the most important aspect of a civil trial to understand is that the “burden of proof” is lower in a civil case than it is in a criminal case. We have all heard the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but that is the burden of proof in criminal cases, not civil cases. In civil cases, the burden of proof is “by a preponderance of the evidence.” Basically, that means that the case that is being proved is more likely than not what actually occurred.
The actual process of a civil trial is very similar to the process of a criminal trial, for the most part. Both sides have the opportunity to make opening statements, call witnesses, introduce evidence and make final arguments. After all of those steps are completed, the case is turned over to the jury to make a decision.
One thing that is quite common in civil trials that you will not necessarily see much of in criminal trials is the concept of “stipulations.” When the parties “stipulate,” that means they are in agreement that some fact is true or that an exhibit is admissible. Stipulating on these issues can help the case proceed more quickly and smoothly.