The scheduling of an evidentiary hearing is an opportunity for you to introduce crucial evidence or question evidence produced by the opposition. As a self-represented litigant, you should conceive of your evidentiary hearing as an athletic semi-final. This hearing could send your best facts to the playoffs and potentially produce a win.
What Is an Evidentiary Hearing?
Not all cases have evidentiary hearings. They generally occur when the material facts of the case need to be established before a trial can proceed. Motions filed by you or the other side may have made the facts unclear, and a judge will assess which facts are worthy of consideration in the case.
The delivery of witness testimony and the presentation of documents, photographs, and other relevant materials make a hearing an evidentiary one. Other types of hearings do not revolve around material evidence. These are labeled non-evidentiary hearings. The purpose of a non-evidentiary hearing may be to argue a purely legal concept, like jurisdiction. Most hearings in a case will be non-evidentiary.
Evidentiary Hearings Are Very Important
The outcome of an evidentiary hearing might make or break your case. If the opposing side convinces a judge that some of your evidence is not relevant, then your legal argument could unravel. Indeed, the opposing party might have inspired the evidentiary hearing for the sole purpose of diminishing your evidence.
On the other hand, you could succeed in casting doubt on your opponent’s evidence. During an evidentiary hearing, you are allowed to question the witnesses brought into court by the other side. That gives you a chance to draw attention to information that a witness might not reveal unless directly asked. Remember, a judge will not know the intimate details of how your opponent misled you or violated your rights. You need to force that information to the surface to increase the value of your legal argument.
Child Custody Evidentiary Hearing Example
Scott currently acts as the custodial parent of his two children. The mother, Stephanie, has weekly visitation with the children, but she has petitioned the family court for emergency full-time custody. According to Stephanie, she needs to do this because Scott drinks and neglects the children.
Her allegations prompted the family court to schedule an evidentiary hearing and ask a child psychologist to interview the children.
Scott makes a plan that addresses the claims made against him and shows that he is a dutiful parent.
To accomplish this:
1. He refutes the claims made against him while giving testimony under oath at the hearing.
2. He assembles three witnesses, his father, teacher, and neighbor, to testify that he provides materially and emotionally for the children.
3. He presents documentary evidence that includes printed text messages from Stephanie showing that she canceled plans with the children on multiple occasions.
4. He highlights the fact for the judge that the child psychologist’s report shows no indication of neglect on his part.
5. When presenting evidence, Scott is able to cite specific laws that support his parental rights because he did his research.
The evidentiary hearing ultimately left Scott in a strong position, and the court did not alter the existing custody order.
How to Prepare Evidence for an Evidentiary Hearing
You can’t show up with a shoe box full of receipts and expect to be taken seriously. You must follow courtroom procedures for presenting, labeling, and sharing evidence.
Generally, you need to inform the opposing party about the documents and witnesses that you plan to present at the hearing. The precise procedures for introducing evidence vary among courts and jurisdictions, but they all follow a basic process. Study the available reference materials provided by the court clerk.
You’ve probably heard the term “exhibit” in relation to court cases. Exhibit is the word applied to each piece of documentary evidence that you supply. You need to make copies of your documents for the opposing party and the court itself. You may need to label evidence with exhibit stickers provided by the court clerk ahead of time, or the clerk will affix labels in court as you present each exhibit. Before introducing exhibits, you will ask the judge for permission to deliver the exhibit.
Each piece of evidence that you plan to show in court needs to have a relevant reason for being there. This is called its foundation. In other words, be ready to tell the judge how it supports your legal argument.
You should inform your witnesses about the time and place of the hearing and any documents that they need to bring. You may even look into the possibility of asking the court to subpoena witnesses, which then obligates them to attend.
Practicing your questions with your witnesses ahead of time is appropriate. This could help a person give a clear and concise answer in court. You may also need to pay witness fees to the court.
What Happens During the Hearing
The judge or presiding officer will allow the plaintiff to present exhibits, swear in witnesses, and ask questions. Then, the defendant may do the same.
During this process, either party might voice objections, and the judge will decide the legitimacy of objections. Each party also may cross examine each other’s witnesses.
Finally, the judge will make decisions about what the material facts of the case are. Additional court actions to complete the case will then be scheduled.
Tips for Success
Representing yourself in court shows that you have the moxie to stand up for your rights. Because you have to invest so much energy in your case, try to gain the most value from it by being courteous with court staff and making a genuine effort to comply with procedures. If you have time, you might increase your confidence by attending other evidentiary hearings. Observing the process will help you learn how to speak to the judge and follow the rules.
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