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FAQs About Civil Trials

As civil litigators, much of our practice involves trials.  This blog answers some FAQs.

Q.        What is a “trial”?

The term “trial” refers to the phase in a lawsuit when each party presents evidence to prove its case, and to disprove the opponent’s case.

Q.        What are the “Rules of Evidence”?

Both Illinois and Federal courts follow well-established rules to determine whether particular evidence can be presented at trial.  Evidence allowed by the rules is “admissible,” while evidence not allowed is “inadmissible.”

Q.        Is there a “general rule” about the admissibility of evidence?

Evidence is generally admissible if relevant to the dispute.  However, Illinois and Federal courts recognize many exceptions to that general rule.  Even relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, of misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

Q.        What evidence is “relevant”?

Evidence is “relevant” if it tends to prove or disprove any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the case.

Q.        What is the “hearsay rule”?

The term “hearsay” refers to an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.  Courts typically do not admit hearsay evidence unless the opposing party can cross-examine the person who made the out-of-court statement.  However, Illinois and Federal courts recognize numerous exceptions to the “hearsay rule.”

Q.        What is “authentication”?

Authentication (or identification) is a condition precedent to admissibility of evidence.  It can be satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims.  Lawyers frequently also use the term “foundation.”   For example, a witness cannot testify about a telephone conversation without first establishing who participated, and that it occurred by telephone.  Similarly, a party cannot offer a document into evidence without a witness first testifying about his familiarity with, and the authenticity of, that document.

The rules of evidence can be quite complicated.  Please call us today if you need a better explanation.

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