There's a lot of confusion regarding the exact distinctions between a court hearing and a complete trial. Media lawyers often refer to all casual court appearances as hearings but don't clearly define the process.
Sometimes, it seems like "hearings" are one of those ambiguous terms the public should instinctively know. These expectations are a problem because differentiating between a trial and a hearing is essential for preparing yourself prior to a court appearance.
What is a Court Hearing?
Court hearings refer to appearances before a judge to resolve a dispute outside of the trial. A hearing shares many characteristics with a trial and often includes verbal arguments and presenting evidence.
However, the judge isn't deciding on the overall verdict of the trial or lawsuit. Instead, they're addressing a specific issue within the proceedings, such as a trial's schedule or whether to admit new evidence.
Typically, court hearings are shorter and less formal than the following trial. Witnesses aren't subjected to cross-examination, and the process doesn't always happen in the official courtroom. In rare cases, judges may call relevant parties into the judge's chambers to privately discuss sensitive matters in a hearing.
Court Hearing Process
A court hearing's process may change case-by-case since they're less formal than trials. The steps will also vary depending on what the hearing is discussing.
For example, a hearing to determine whether a witness is viable will proceed differently from a hearing to set a trial date. That said, while the steps are flexible, the basic skeleton of a court hearing often includes the following aspects:
- Scheduling: Court hearing dates are set well in advance. The Court issues notices to involved parties specifying the time and place of the hearing. This information is extended to required participants; other parties must be informed separately.
- Statements and Presenting Evidence: All parties can express themselves and bring up relevant information such as documents, witness testimony, and other materials. Information presented in a hearing is not automatically admissible in the trial itself. This step informs the judge's decision and is designed to keep all decisions fair.
- Court Judgements: The judge considers the evidence, arguments, and applicable law. This decision may be announced immediately or delivered at a later date.
How Long Does a Court Hearing Last?
The court hearing duration depends on the issue's complexity, the number of witnesses, and the amount of evidence presented. Simple and procedural hearings can be resolved in a few minutes after sitting down, while more intricate problems can take days.
Types of Court Hearings
Court hearings are a broad topic encompassing any issue requiring a judge's decision. The most common hearings you'll face include:
- Arraignment Hearings: The defendant is read a formal description of the criminal complaint raised against them. At this time, the defendant chooses whether or not to plead guilty, and the judge sets bail.
- Omnibus Hearing: This pretrial hearing discusses any potential issues, court records, or pretrial motions. Possible discussions include adding aggravating factors or suppressing specific evidence and witnesses.
- Readiness Hearing: This hearing is scheduled before the trial to ensure that all sides are prepared. Parties can plead guilty or defer prosecution due to extenuating circumstances.
- Shelter Care Hearing: This hearing decides whether it's safe to return a child home while a judgment is being made. These decisions are common in cases of accused child abuse or neglect.
There are dozens of different types of court hearings, and they're handled differently depending on the overseeing state. Discussing the exact process with a lawyer before attending a hearing is best.
Differences in a Supreme Court Hearing
Supreme Court hearings differ significantly from the lower court hearings in structure and significance. The Supreme Court sits at the peak of our country's legal system and primarily handles cases of national importance or constitutional precedent.
The Supreme Court starts hearings at 10 AM and typically only handles two a day. Unless there are convincing circumstances, the Court restricts oral arguments to 30 minutes per party. This session includes the time it takes to answer the Justices' questions.
Rather than convincing the judge of their side, the lawyer's primary purpose at the Supreme Court is to fill in holes missing from the submitted brief.
What is a Remote Court Hearing
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person trials for a long time, forcing courts to adapt. Remote court hearings have become commonplace, and some counties have continued the practice. These are hearings where all participants appear through a virtual platform like Zoom.
In most cases, video is required, and participants are expected to uphold the same courtesy and professionalism as in traditional Court. This means restricting distractions like pets and dressing for the occasion at home. It'd be poor taste to appear in pajamas with a cat in your lap.
While there are many situations in which online hearings are inappropriate, virtual platforms offer flexibility and accessibility in cases where physical attendance is challenging.
Who can Join a Zoom Court Hearing?
Zoom court hearings contain all the same components as a traditional hearing. This means that anyone required at an in-person hearing can join the Zoom session, including:
- Parties and their Attorneys: The primary participants in a case, including the plaintiff, defendant, and their respective attorneys, can join the Zoom hearing from different locations.
- Witnesses: Witnesses can testify remotely but are expected to meet the same audio/visual requirements as the primary participants.
- Interpreters: If language interpretation is required, interpreters can join the Zoom hearing to facilitate communication.
In some cases, court hearings are open to the public. Zoom can be linked to a YouTube stream, allowing observers and the press to watch. Additionally, it's heavily recommended that all participants perform a mock call to ensure their devices are working correctly. Some factors to pay special attention to include:
- Internet Connection
Always Know What to Expect on Your Day in Court
Court hearings are an essential component of the U.S. legal system. They provide a forum for resolving disputes without the burdens of a full trial. The court hearing process involves various stages, each ensuring a fair and impartial resolution.
The exact steps of a hearing depend on its type and location. Different counties have separate standards, and things may change from judge to judge. The system is confusing, and it’s challenging to know exactly how a hearing will go.
It’s always better to have more information at hand. Knowledge of the other participants will prove useful, and there’s more data available online than you’d expect. Quick searches through record tracing services like InfoTracer may give you the key to more gracefully handle your day in court!