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Hearing Vs. Trial

Dena Standley | November 11, 2022

Knowing the difference between a hearing and trial is no funny business.

Summary: Hearings and trials are court proceedings that happen before a judge. But they differ in purpose, formality, and process.

The confusion between a hearing and a trial results from popular culture using the terms interchangeably. A trial is a type of hearing, but numerous other court proceedings are labeled hearings, and understanding the key differences is crucial.

In civil cases, there are several hearings from when the plaintiff files a complaint until the verdict. But there is only one trial for each court case. A judge or a jury presides over the trial. In criminal cases, it is the District Attorney who files charges, and the case proceeds to trial unless a plea bargain is reached.

In this article, we will clear the confusion between trial and hearing. Let’s get right to it.

What is a hearing?

A hearing is any court procedure that takes place before a judge.

Hearings start early in the lawsuit to determine whether a case should proceed to trial. Even the meeting to schedule court dates between a judge, the plaintiff (or plaintiff's attorney), and the defendant (or defendant's attorney) is a type of hearing.

Hearings are generally less formal when compared to a trial. Also, the judge or jury does not deliberate on whether the accused is guilty. Hearings only serve to decide on particular aspects of the lawsuit before an actual trial can begin.

In a civil case, such as a debt collection lawsuit, you can have the following hearings:

  • Scheduling hearings
  • Hearings on motions
  • Preliminary hearings, etc.

Here is a summary of what these hearings involve.

Scheduling hearings

Before the trial can begin, the judge must decide on essential dates—for example, the deadline for collecting evidence and the trial date.

To set the best dates for everyone, the court may require that the plaintiff and the defendant (or their representatives) be present at the scheduling. It's best to be present at the scheduling hearing so that you can confirm that you will be available to attend court on set dates.

What happens at a motion hearing?

A motion is any request to the court to perform a specific action. Either party can file one during the lawsuit.

There are numerous motions. You can request the court to rule out a witness, or you might ask that the court rule on a Motion for Summary Judgment without a trial.

Upon receiving the petition, the judge will arrange for both parties to present their views. Such a meeting with the judge is an example of a motion hearing. The judge then grants or denies the motion based on the facts both parties present at the hearing.

Preliminary hearings

The court arranges a mini-trial (preliminary hearing) to decide if the case should proceed to the actual trial. You should attend your debt collection lawsuit preliminary hearing because it allows you to participate in talks with the judge and plaintiff.

Keep in mind that you must send the Answer first.

Sued by a creditor? Create your Answer in minutes.

Let’s look at an example.

Example: Paul does well in filing the Answer for his debt collection lawsuit. However, when he learns that he should attend a preliminary hearing, he ignores the Summons thinking that it’s not as important as the actual trial. Paul is in danger of losing his case. If the judge decides his actions are disrespectful, the court may issue a default judgment against him.

What is a trial?

A trial is a “hearing” because it's a court proceeding before a judge. However, it is an intense kind of hearing where the final verdict of the case will be decided.

Both parties present their arguments at a trial, and the court examines the evidence and listens to witnesses' accounts.

At the end of a trial, the court, or jury, decides in favor of or against the defendant. The verdict is final unless one party appeals.

A trial can be:

  • Bench trial
  • Jury trial

A bench trial is when a judge (or a panel of judges) hears the facts of a case and reads the verdict.

In a jury trial, the judge and jury are present at the deliberations. But the jury gives the verdict. The judge ensures that all parties play by the rules. They also decide which evidence the jury should consider.

Most debt collection lawsuits are bench trials. But either party may request a “trial by jury.” For example, in Alaska, you must send a written request within ten days of the defendant filing the Answer.

Remember that jury selection and trials can take a lot of time. The proceedings are also complicated and may require you to hire a lawyer. That's why most consumers prefer to present their case before a judge.

You can represent yourself in your debt collection lawsuit.

The fundamental difference between hearing vs. trial

A court hearing differs from a trial because hearings do not decide a case, while an actual trial results in a verdict.

There is no cross-examination of witnesses or evidence at a hearing, whereas the presentation of evidence and witness accounts for a significant part of the trial. Additionally, hearings are usually informal and last a short time. On the other hand, trials are typically formal, intense, and lengthy.

All court proceedings are essential. So, don’t ignore any Summons. Let SoloSuit help you avoid a trial by filing your Answer or a Motion to Compel Arbitration to force debt collection cases out of court.

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