Small Claims & Consumer Help

Small Claims - Defendant

In Court . . . Actual Defense of Your Case

In this section, you will learn how to actually present various important aspects of your case. This section assumes that you have are being sued by another party and that you are the defendant.

There are certain rules and procedures which must be followed when you get to court. First, both sides should appear at the proper place at the proper time and respond to the clerk when your case is called.

The plaintiff, or person bringing the lawsuit, will always go first and will be asked to state his/her case briefly. The defendant should not interrupt at this juncture, since both parties will get a chance to talk. If you are the plaintiff you should rarely take more than five minutes to explain your case.

At this time you should also present any evidence such as photos, documents, charts, models, diagrams, bills, writings and other evidence. You should hand them to the judge's assistant, usually the bailiff or the clerk, who will hand them to the judge. You should also point out to the judge at this time that certain witnesses are in the court room. The judge may decide if he/she wants to hear from the witnesses and at what point they should testify.

Then the judge will ask the defendant to present his/her case. At this time the plaintiff should not interrupt, or make faces or other noises. The judge will quickly become angry with any party engaging in such disruptive activities, and it may affect the outcome of your entire case.

After hearing both sides, the judge may want to ask questions or talk to certain witnesses or review documents or other evidence. Do not become unnerved if the judge seems to be asking the other party more questions or for more information. More often than not, the judge may be leaning to your side in the case and he/she may be asking certain questions to make sure their decision is right.

Here is a list of several helpful preparation hints:

  1. Organize your arguments before court. Have either an outline or a written version of the story. Practice it several times in front of a mirror and perhaps with an audience to see how it sounds. Try to avoid reading a script at court though as the judge will expect you to simply tell him/her what happened.
  2. Organize your evidence and exhibits. Present these to the judge in some logical order, but if you get sidetracked by a question or by nervousness, make sure you get each piece of evidence before the judge. It is better to be a little disorganized and get everything to the judge, than to allow your nervousness to make you forget certain evidence.
  3. Stand when addressing the court. The judge will know you respect him/her when you stand.
  4. Address all of your comments to the judge and not to the other party. Do not engage in any conversations with the other party in open court, as that is the fastest way to draw the judge's wrath. The judge will control the flow of the presentation and he/she will not allow talking to the other party.
  5. Don't worry about being nervous. Almost all participants in the court system are nervous. You have just as good of a chance of winning if you are nervous and cannot speak as well as the other party. It depends on your facts and evidence, not on how much you are shaking from nervousness.
  6. Always wear appropriate clothing. Just as many studies indicate that criminals who wear suits get less jail time, so too, can your attire affect the outcome of your case.

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