Juries usually base their verdicts on a small number of crucial points. But lawyers tend to offer as much evidence as possible, believing this will make their case more convincing or fearing they’ll leave something out. Finding the fine line between making sure the point isn’t lost and losing the point by insulting jurors with repetition requires thought and preparation. Here are six methods for streamlining the evidence in your next trial.
- Narrow the issues. The best way to shorten a trial is to reduce the number of issues to be tried. Partial summary judgment motions and various discovery methods can result in narrowing the issues to be tried. Almost any measure that encourages pretrial preparation (e.g., mandatory exchanges of exhibits, stipulations to the admission of exhibits, witness lists, jury instructions, and verdict forms) will help narrow the issues and reduce the areas of disagreement and argument among counsel.
- Summarize depositions. Even the most conscientious juror finds it difficult to extract information from reading a deposition transcript. Don’t read transcripts to a jury unless there’s no alternative, such as a live witness or video recording of the deposition. And if you have to read excerpts of the transcript, keep it to an absolute minimum.
- Make in limine motions and request chambers conferences. In limine motions and pretrial chambers conferences are invaluable trial management tools that help focus the issues and expedite the trial. Motions in limine may resolve issues about the propriety of questionable evidence and minimize the risk of delay during trial. Pretrial chambers conferences provide an opportunity to confirm that premarked exhibits, witness lists, deposition testimony, and proposed jury instructions have been exchanged. Any disputes about graphics or other visual aids, particularly those that may be used during opening statements, can also be resolved during a pretrial conference.
- Enter into stipulations. An effective way to shorten a trial and to focus the jurors’ attention on the real issues of the case is for the parties to enter into stipulations that reduce the number of factual or legal issues requiring resolution. Also consider evidentiary stipulations for records, exhibits, and testimony about which there’s no real controversy.
- Request judicial notice. An often overlooked efficiency measure is judicial notice. See Evid C §§451–456. If the court takes judicial notice of a matter, counsel doesn’t need to take the time to present evidence proving it. The court will instruct the jurors that they must accept the judicially noticed matter as indisputably true. See Evid C §457.
- Efficiently present trial exhibits. Premarking exhibits is an easy step counsel can take to make sure the trial proceeds efficiently. It wastes time during trial if counsel, the clerk, and the court reporter are fumbling with marking exhibits. Preparing copies of documents before trial is also helpful. For example, opposing counsel will have their own copies of depositions, but the document that has been marked will be the one shown to the witness; thus, the court won’t have a copy unless counsel provides it. And using visual aids, models, and simulations can be an important tool in making trials more efficient and in simplifying the witnesses’ duty to explain and describe events.
Jurors appreciate counsel treating them as intelligent observers and tend to have greater confidence in the side that provides them with the information they need to make a decision without wasting their time. Streamlining your evidence can mean the difference between winning and losing your case. Get more guidance on how to handle trials efficiently in CEB’s California Trial Practice: Civil Procedure During Trial, chap 1.
Check out these other CEBblog™ on trial strategy.
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