Representing yourself at trial can be daunting. This article is intended to help you prepare to represent yourself at a hearing or trial by providing information about evidence and exhibits. You might start with our previous post on preparing for trial when you are representing yourself.
Remember when you learned the scientific method in grade school? The Colorado Rules of Evidence somewhat mirror the scientific method—they help you marshal all the clues into one large coherent story. The Colorado Rules of Evidence are the rules that govern how each party’s story will be told and they apply to each side. They help the parties and the judge manage the case. The judge will be thinking, “Is what this person says trustworthy? Is this document what it purports to be? Are we getting off-track?” If you want to introduce an expert witness, you will have to lay the foundation for them to be qualified as an expert. If you want to introduce an e-mail or a bank statement, you will have to lay the foundation to prove its authenticity. [If you want to launch into your soon-to-be ex-wife’s affair, remember that Colorado is a no-fault state. So, you better have proof that it is relevant to what you’re asking the Court to do that day, i.e., a question of your child’s paternity or your ongoing medical expenses to treat an STD for which you now need maintenance from your wife. Otherwise, it is simply not relevant. Manage your time wisely. The Court does not need a sob story, it needs to know what you want done with the 401k, the house, or the kids, and why your proposal is a better solution than what the other side proposes.]
It helps to understand the Colorado Rules of Evidence and have some knowledge of objections. This is a complex topic, but it does help to develop at least a cursory understand, so that if the other side stands up during your presentation of evidence and says, “Objection: Relevance ”or “Objection: Hearsay,” you know at least what they mean, and how you might respond. You can get a Colorado Rules of Evidence Summary Trial Guide from Elex Publishers, Inc. which many people find helpful.
You must exchange exhibits with the other party in advance of the hearing (usually about a week or more before trial as set forth in the Case Management Order or C.R.C.P. 16.2).
So, identify and gather up your exhibits early. As an example, if you want to introduce a text message, you’ll have to figure out how to print it. You should print the entire conversation, not just the one message that says, “Fine, go ahead.” Make sure the date, time, and names of the people having the conversation appear in the printout.
Mark each one of your exhibits consecutively. Generally, if you are the Petitioner they will be numbered, and if you are the Respondent they will be lettered.
When you exchange the exhibits, talk to the other party about things that you can stipulate to in advance. This includes exhibits like bank statements: see if the other party will agree to their foundation and authenticity so that you do not have to subpoena the records keeper from the bank to bring them and testify that they are indeed what they seem to be. Unless you genuinely doubt that the bank statement is real, it would be silly not to stipulate to its foundation and authenticity. The other side should offer you the same courtesy. The judge will notice and appreciate it.
After you have exchanged your exhibits with the other side, you need to make the right number of copies for presentation in the Courtroom the day of trial. We suggest putting them in a 3-ring binder with lettered or numbered tabs. The Judge needs one. The Witness needs one. The other party needs one. You need one. If another attorney will be present, such as a Guardian ad Litem or Child’s Legal Representative, that person needs one. A little organization now will save you a lot of time at the hearing. You don’t want to be scrambling to find a particular e-mail that supports your statement while the Judge and the other party are waiting on you.
INTRODUCING THE EXHIBITS
When the time comes for you to introduce the exhibit, follow these steps if you are asking a witness.* Let’s pretend we are introducing an e-mail for these purposes:
- Please turn in the exhibit notebook to Exhibit [A] .
- Do you recognize this exhibit?
- What is it?
- What is the date of it?
- Who is it from?
- Who is it to?
- Is this a true and correct copy of the e-mail dated (date of e-mail) ?
- Move for the admission of Exhibit [A] . [Wait for the Court to say, Exhibit [A] will be admitted.]
- Mr./Mrs. (witness’s name) , did anything in this e-mail cause you concern?
- What caused you concern?
*If you are testifying for yourself, just make statements to cover the same general information. You do not need to ask yourself questions.
It is not uncommon to feel a bit overwhelmed by all you have to do to prepare to represent yourself at a hearing/trial. We have seen many people do quite well however. Remember your resources such as the state court website, the Self-Help Centers at the courthouses, and pro se clinics. Many firms, including ours, offer Unbundled Legal Services. This is a way to get some legal advice and support while continuing to represent yourself. If you are unfamiliar with this service, you can find more information on our website or in our blog post on that topic.