Many people have a misunderstanding of what is involved in presenting a case to a judge or jury. These people havethe misperception that they can just tell their story to the jury, and the jury will render a verdict for an amount they want. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There is much more involved in presenting your case to a jury.
First, you must understand that your story is told through questions. Other than the opening statement and closing statements, your attorney and you have no opportunity to just tell your story. In fact, the judge will instruct the jury that what the attorneys say in their opening and closing statements is not evidence. Only the information elicited from witnesses at trial along with admitted exhibits constitute evidence. This information is given to the jury through the questions asked by the attorneys and the answers given by the witnesses.
Second, this information is not always given to the jury in the best order or in chronological order. Sometimes, for example, the police officer can only be at court during a certain time, and therefore, his testimony must be put into evidence “out of order” due to the time constraints. This can happen with other witnesses as well.
Third, we cannot just put all written documents into evidence. Documents must be authenticated and proved, and some are not admissible at all. In Alabama, the accident report is inadmissible. You may call the police officer who created the accident report to the stand to testify about what he/she found at the scene, but you cannot put the accident report into evidence. The police officer did not witness the accident so the report is hearsay and inadmissible, but the officer can use the report to refresh his/her recollection while testifying.
In addition to the accident report, medical records and bills can present problems as well. While hospital records may be subpoenaed to court and admitted into evidence, but doctors records are different. In order to admit a doctor’s records into evidence, the records must be authenticated by the doctor or proper custodian of the record. What does that mean? It means, simply, that the doctor must answer the following questions with a yes:
1. Are the records kept under your care, custody, and control?
2. Are the records made in the ordinary course of business?
3. Is it usual and customary to make such records?
4. Was the treatment rendered necessary treatment?
This is why attorneys must take the doctor’s deposition or subpoena the doctor to trial. Without the doctor’s testimony, the records are inadmissible unless the defense attorney agrees to allow the records into evidence.
Finally, photographs can be an issue as well. In order for photographs to be admitted into evidence, someone familiar with the area must testify that the photograph accurately depicts the area shown.
These are not nearly all of the evidentiary issues which arise at trial. But, these examples give you and idea of the difficulties which can arise. Keep these in mind if you have an unfortunate accident which leads to litigation.