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Pretrial Matters

Technically, a trial begins after the preliminary matters in the action have been resolved and the jury or court is ready to begin the examination of the facts. The trial ends when the examination is completed and a judgment can be entered. The trial of a jury case ends on the formal acceptance and recording of a verdict decisive of the entire action. Before the trial may begin, however, certain preliminary matters must be resolved.

Venue Venue refers to the particular county or city in which a court with jurisdiction may conduct a trial. The proper venue for most trials is the city or county in which the injury in dispute allegedly occurred or where the parties reside. Venue may, however, be changed to a different jurisdiction. Sometimes the proper venue for a trial is difficult to determine, such as in cases involving multinational corporations or class actions involving plaintiffs from many different states. The venue for a criminal trial can change if a defendant persuades the trial court that he cannot obtain a fair trial in that venue. For example, a defendant may request a change of venue because he feels that extensive PRE-TRIAL PUBLICITY has prejudiced the public.

Pretrial Motions and Conference Motions may be made by the parties at any time prior to trial and may have a significant impact on the case. For example, in a criminal case, the trial judge might rule that the primary piece of incriminating evidence is not admissible in court. In a civil case, the judge might grant SUMMARY JUDGMENT, which means that no significant facts are in dispute and judgment may be entered without the need for a trial. Before the trial begins, the court holds a PRE-TRIAL CONFERENCE with the parties' attorneys. At the pretrial conference, the parties narrow the issues to be tried and decide on a wide variety of other matters necessary to the disposition of the case.

Public vs. Closed Trials Although most trials are presumptively open to the public, sometimes a court may decide to close a trial. Generally a trial may be closed to the public only to ensure order and dignity in the courtroom or to keep secret sensitive information that will come to light during the trial. Thus, a trial might be closed to the public to protect classified documents, protect trade secrets, avoid intimidation of witnesses, guard the safety of undercover police officers, or protect the identity of a juvenile. Although trials are usually open to the public, most jurisdictions do not permit television cameras or other recording devices in the courtroom. A growing minority of states permits cameras in the courtroom, although the judge still has the discretion to exclude the cameras if he or she feels that their presence will interfere with the trial.

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