You’ve filed the complaint, it’s been answered, and you’ve gathered and evaluated all the evidence. It’s time to go to trial, right? Not yet…there’s still much to be done before your attorney can make an opening statement. It’s important to understand that conducting a full-blown trial can be expensive and time-consuming. It’s in the interests of the court and of the parties to streamline the process. That’s customarily done through pre-trial motions.
There are two general types of pre-trial motions: dispositive motions and evidentiary motions.
A dispositive motion seeks to eliminate the need for the court to resolve some or all of the matters in dispute. Such a motion may be filed by the plaintiff (person who brought the legal action) or the defendant. The plaintiff may argue to the court that the discovery process has produced no evidence that will support any legitimate defense to the wrongs alleged. If the court agrees, the court may grant summary judgment, finding immediately in the plaintiff’s favor.
Conversely, the defendant may allege that, based on all the evidence gathered in depositions, from interrogatories and from the production of documents, the plaintiff has failed to meet the requirements to show negligence or fault. The defendant may seek to dismiss one or all of the allegations in the complaint. If some counts are not dismissed, the lawsuit will go on, but will only address those issues that have not been dismissed.
The rules of evidence during the discovery stage of a trial are less rigid than at trial. The objective during discovery is to unearth all evidence related to the allegations at hand. Some of that evidence may not be admissible at trial…it may be hearsay, opinion or speculation. If the jury hears evidence that is not relevant or inadmissible, it can taint the outcome of the trial. Accordingly, the court will seek to determine in advance, and out of the earshot of the jury, what evidence is admissible and what evidence is not. If evidence is ruled inadmissible, but an attorney still presents it to the jury, it can be grounds for a mistrial.