Will my DSS trial be civil or criminal?
It will be a civil trial.
Will a jury be used in my trial?
No. Your case will be heard by a judge. You are not entitled to a jury trial in a DSS matter. The judge will issue his or her decision at the end of your trial.
Is my trial open to the public?
In order to protect the children involved, your trial is closed to the public.
How long will my trial take?
Every case turns on its own peculiar circumstances. The length of your trial will depend upon the complexity of the issues raised and the evidence presented. Your attorney will try to give you an estimate of how long your trial will take so that you may schedule your time accordingly.
Will I be notified of the exact date of my trial?
Your attorney will let you know when your trial has been scheduled.
Where will my trial take place?
Your entire trial will take place in the courtroom.
What should I tell my attorney about my case?
You should tell your attorney everything. Your attorney cannot protect your rights if he or she doesn't have all the necessary information. Don't worry about whether the information you are providing is important or not. Let your attorney decide this.
What will my attorney ask me?
Your attorney will ask you questions about your personal background, marital status, education, work history, medical problems, prior involvement with DSS, and other intimate details. Your attorney needs this information in order to provide you with effective legal representation.
What if I am embarrassed by or ashamed of some of the things in my past?
Don't worry about being ashamed or embarrassed about anything you say to your attorney. Your attorney has most likely heard stories similar to yours from other clients. You have an attorney-client privilege, which means that your attorney is ethically bound to keep the details of your case confidential. Your attorney will not judge you, but will advocate zealously to protect your legal rights. The importance of telling your attorney EVERYTHING cannot be more strongly emphasized.
Why is my personal background important to my trial?
A trial is based on evidence. Your personal history can have a significant bearing on your credibility as a witness.
Will everything that I tell my attorney come up during the course of my trial?
Maybe, but not necessarily. In order to be prepared for any issues that may arise during your trial, your attorney needs to have as much information as possible, but it is not likely that all the information you shared with your attorney will be brought up at trial. Your attorney will object to any inappropriate questioning by opposing counsel.
How can I keep something that happened a long time ago from coming up at my trial?
Your attorney may take the necessary steps to attempt to keep such information from coming out at trial.
How should I act during my trial?
Your trial is an important event, and you should act accordingly. Behave in a serious, dignified manner. Be courteous and polite. Do not lose your temper or become angry or hostile toward anyone.
How should I dress when I go to court?
You should always be clean, neat, and comfortable when you go to court. Be sure your clothing is in good repair. Tight or revealing clothing and flashy jewelry are inappropriate.
Will I know which judge will hear my trial?
This depends on where your trial is being held. In some courts, only one judge is available to hear cases. In other courts, judges are assigned to individual cases.
What should I do during my trial?
Pay strict attention to what is being said in the courtroom.
Can I take notes during my trial?
Generally, yes, although you should check with your attorney first.
Can I talk to my attorney during recess outside the courtroom?
Yes, you may, but be sure that you are not overheard by others.
Is it appropriate for me to take tranquilizers or other medication before or during my trial?
You should consult with your doctor prior to taking any medication. Your attorney cannot give you medical advice. Be aware that any medications you take may have an impact on your ability to be attentive during your trial, and the judge could interpret your demeanor as being disinterested.
Will my presence be required in the courtroom during the entire trial?
Usually, yes, but check with your attorney. There may be times during which your presence is not needed, such as when your attorney is arguing motions.
Will I be allowed to leave the courtroom to take a break during my trial?
The judge will take a recess from time to time so that everyone can take a break. If you have any special needs, be sure to tell your attorney prior to trial so accommodations can be made.
Can I communicate with my attorney during the trial?
Yes, you may communicate with your attorney during the trial, especially if you have information regarding the evidence. However, bear in mind that your attorney is paying close attention to the proceedings in the courtroom. Your attorney will let you know when it is appropriate to communicate with him or her.
What will happen during my trial?
Your attorney and opposing counsel will be at a trial table at the front of the courtroom. The court officer will say "All rise" and the judge will enter the courtroom dressed in a black robe. The court officer will then declare that the court is "now in session" and ask everyone to be seated. The clerk or the probation officer will announce the docket number and parties. Each attorney makes an opening statement to the judge or waives the right to do so. Each side will be allowed the opportunity to present evidence and arguments before the judge, and to examine and cross-examine witnesses.
Which side presents its case first?
DSS presents its case through the testimony of witnesses, records, reports, photographs, and any other evidence that tends to prove its case.
What should I do if I know a witness is not telling the truth?
Do not express your displeasure at the witness's testimony by making any remarks. Instead, stay serious and focused. You and your witnesses will have your opportunity to testify about your knowledge of the facts.
What happens after all the DSS witnesses have testified?
Once DSS has finished presenting its case and its witnesses have been cross-examined by the other attorneys, counsel for the other parties present their witnesses. Those witnesses may be cross-examined by DSS.
Who will be my witnesses at trial?
Your attorney will decide with input from you who your witnesses will be. Your witnesses may include DSS personnel such as the social worker and supervisor, the adoption social worker and supervisor, and other collaterals that may have been involved with your child (e.g., teacher, therapist, medical doctor, after school program staff).
When will I be called to testify?
Your attorney will try to give you an idea of when it will be your turn to testify, but the order of witnesses is always subject to change.
What will happen when I am asked to take the witness stand?
The clerk will ask you to raise your right hand to take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you have religious beliefs that prohibit you from taking an oath, most courts will allow you to substitute the word "affirm" for "swear" when you promise to tell the truth. Tell your attorney ahead of time about any religious objections to the standard oath so the clerk can be notified.
Will I know what questions I will be asked at trial?
No. Although your attorney will try to prepare you for any questions opposing counsel may ask, there is no way to know for certain what line the attorney's questioning will take.
Will more than one attorney be allowed to ask me questions?
Every attorney is allowed to question you when you are on the witness stand.
Can the judge ask me any questions when I am on the witness stand?
Yes. The judge can ask questions of any witness on the witness stand.
How should I answer questions?
Always answer truthfully. Answer only the question asked. Before answering a question, make sure you understand it. Think carefully about your answer before speaking. Keep your eyes on the questioner during questioning, and look at the judge when you give your answer. Be sure that your answer is spoken clearly and that you speak loudly enough for the judge to hear. Do not answer questions with gestures, nods, or shakes of your head. Do not mumble or utter "mm-hmm." Gestures and unspoken answers cannot be recorded for the record. Also, the judge may miss your gestures or be unclear about what your answer was intended to be. Do not ramble. Do not answer questions that were not asked (sit quietly and wait for the next question). Do not answer a question with a question.
What should I say if I am asked if I have spoken to my attorney before coming to trial?
Again, always tell the truth. If you have spoken with your attorney, answer "Yes." It is both reasonable and expected that you would speak to your attorney prior to trial.
What should I do if I cannot hear a question?
Do not be afraid to ask that the question be repeated.
What should I do if I do not understand a question?
If you do not understand a question, or if you are not sure that you understand a question, ask that it be reworded so you can understand it.
What should I do if I become confused while testifying?
Take a deep breath and relax. Answer at your own pace. Do not let rapid-fire questioning force you into rapid-fire answers.
What should I do if I am on the witness stand and nobody is asking me questions?
Silence may make you feel intimidated, but you must resist the urge to talk. Sit quietly and wait for the next question.
What should I say if I do not remember specific facts or figures?
Again, answer truthfully. If you don't know, say so. Don't guess. If an attorney asks you for an estimate, do the best you can.
What happens if the opposing counsel fails to ask me questions that I believe are important?
Opposing counsel will ask you questions they consider important to their cases, not yours. You will have an opportunity to present questions important to your own case.
What will happen after all the evidence has been presented?
Each side has an opportunity to make a closing statement.
How long will it take the judge to make a decision in my case?
The length of time the judge needs to make a decision will vary depending upon the complexity of the issues and extensiveness of the evidence presented.