Karlene Behringer
Trial Court Administrator
Email: kbehringer@kcgov.us

Jamie Johnson
Assistant to the Trial Court Administrator
Email: jjohnson@kcgov.us

P: (208) 446-1217
F: (208) 446-1224

Physical Address:
501 Government Way
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
Click here for map.

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Anatomy of a Trial

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At the time a case is set for trial, a decision must be made as to whether the judge or a jury will decide the case. The use of a jury depends on the type of case and the decisions of the parties involved. Most civil matters and criminal misdemeanor cases may be tried with or without a jury. However, to waive the right to a jury trial in a misdemeanor case, both the prosecutor representing the state and the defendant must agree to waive the jury. Without this agreement of both parties, the trial must be conducted before a jury.

Although the constitution permits the defendant to waive a jury trial and have the case decided by a judge, most felony cases in Idaho are conducted before a jury. Twelve person juries are utilized in the district court.

The anatomy of a trial is substantially the same with or without a jury, except for the voir dire during which the jury members are selected. The voir dire process involves potential jury members being questioned under oath by the lawyers presenting both sides of the matter to ensure a jury is satisfactory to each party. An attorney may challenge a perspective juror for cause or preemptory, without cause. A challenge for cause means that the attorney has found a good reason why a person should not serve as a juror. A preemptory challenge means that the attorney has decided not to put the individual on the jury and does not need to state a reason. The attorneys have a specified number of preemptory challenges.

Once the jury has been impaneled, each side, through their respective attorney, has the opportunity to make an opening statement, thereby commencing the trial. The lawyers during the opening statement outline the elements associated with their case. The defendant may choose to wait to give an opening statement until the beginning of the case.

Upon completion of the opening statements, the plaintiff, in a civil action, or the prosecutor, in a criminal action, presents his or her case. During this time, the plaintiff's witnesses are questioned under direct examination by the plaintiff/prosecutor and under cross-examination by the defendant. Upon completion of his or her case, the plaintiff/prosecutor rests.

At this time, the defendant may present an opening statement, if not done so earlier. The defendant then produces his or her witnesses and evidence. The defendant's attorney questions the defendant's witnesses on direct examination and the plaintiff/prosecutor examines the witness under cross-examination. Upon completion of his or her case, the defendant rests. At this time, the plaintiff/prosecutor may present any rebuttal witnesses. During the presentation of testimony and evidence by either side, objections may be made by the opposing attorney. An objection is a lawyer's argument that evidence should not be heard because it does not bear on the case or is excluded by law. If the judge agrees, or sustains the objection, that information is not included in the record of the trial. If the objection is overruled, the judge did not agree with the lawyer's objection.

Once both sides have finished presenting their case, the judge will instruct the jury on the law as it applies to the testimony and evidence that they have heard and seen. Closing arguments are made to the jury or the judge by the attorney as a final summary of their client's factual and legal position. The jury will then retire to deliberate on the verdict. If the case is being tried without a jury, the court may make a decision immediately or may "take the matter under advisement" and notify all parties of his or her decision at a later date.

Once a trial has been completed and a judgment has been entered, there are a limited number of alternatives available to an individual not satisfied with the result of the trial. Initially, an individual may file certain post-trial motions in which he or she asks for reconsideration and/or relief despite the decision of the court or jury. Failing this, an individual or party dissatisfied with the decision may appeal to the next higher court. Ultimately, the court of last resort in the state of Idaho is the Idaho Supreme Court. Appeals from a decision of the district court are taken to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court may choose to assign that case to the Court of Appeals for review and decision. While decisions of the Court of Appeals may be appealed back to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court is not required to grant a review of the Court of Appeals decision. In most cases, decisions of the Court of Appeals are final.

Civil Case Process

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A civil lawsuit involves disputes between private individuals and/or organizations. The facts of the dispute could involve a contract, a lease, a physical injury experienced by an individual, a divorce, or many other issues. Nonetheless, all disputes or unresolved conflicts between individuals may ultimately be resolved through civil litigation. Generally, the result desired by the person filing the lawsuit is to be compensated for damages. An alternative result is to have the court enter an order requiring another person to begin or stop some activity.

A civil lawsuit is started by the filing of a complaint which details the facts of the situation as seen by the plaintiff, the person desiring the court's assistance. A filing fee is collected by the deputy clerk at the time of the filing of the complaint. Once a complaint and summons have been filed with the court, these documents must be delivered to the opposing party, known as the defendant. The defendant then has twenty days to respond in writing to the complaint.

The written response that the defendant files with the court is known as an answer. Again, the court clerk will collect a required fee for the filing of the answer. The defendant may, at the same time, file a counterclaim as part of his or her answer. The counterclaim states the relief that the defendant feels he or she may be entitled to from the plaintiff. The plaintiff then has ten days to file an answer to the defendant's counterclaim.

If either party fails to comply with the time limits, the other side may ask the court to rule in his or her favor by default. Default is entered when a party does not appear or file papers, and the judge may enter a decision or judgment to be collected as any other decision. It should be noted that most time limits may be extended by agreement (stipulation) of the parties by an order of the court.

Upon completion of the filing of the various documents as previously described, there is usually a period of time for discovery. This is an intermediate period during which either side may require the other to answer written questions known as interrogatories, give sworn testimony under oath known as depositions, provide copies of documents that relate to the case, request for production of documents, and several other things that will assist the lawyers in their presentations. The discovery process can be extremely lengthy and complicated.

From the beginning of the dispute, the parties may have been negotiating in hopes of finding a solution. The negotiation may continue throughout the life span of the lawsuit. However, if negotiations have so far been unsuccessful and all discovery has been completed, either side may file various motions with the court. These motions are simply requests that the court decides certain preliminary matters prior to the trial. An additional step at this point is the pre-trial hearing, at which time the lawyers representing both sides of the case or the parties themselves, if they have chosen not to be represented by an attorney, meet with the judge for the purpose of simplifying the factual and legal issues as much as possible prior to trial. Frequently, the judge is able to assist the parties in reaching a mutually agreeable decision at the pre-trial hearing.

If all negotiations prior to and during the pre-trial hearing have been unsuccessful, the matter then will go before the court in a formal trial. The conduct of a trial is discussed more thoroughly in the Anatomy of a Trial section.

Criminal Case Process

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A criminal case is one in which an individual is accused of conduct that has potentially damaged society. There are two main types of criminal cases: misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor is a charge punishable by a fine or imprisonment in the county jail. A felony is a charge potentially punishable by incarceration in the state penitentiary. Misdemeanors are tried by magistrate judges in the magistrate division of the district court, and felonies are tried by district judges.

Generally, criminal cases are initiated by the filing of a complaint based either on a police investigation or a citizen's accusation. A complaint is the document that sets forth a formal charge against the defendant. It is signed by the victim or other accuser, and the person signing the complaint must show reason or probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the offense. Once a complaint has been filed, the court may issue either a warrant for the arrest of the person charged or a summons requiring the person charged to appear before the court at a specified time. A warrant of arrest authorizes any police officer to take the person named on the warrant into custody in order that the person may be brought before the court to answer the charges in the complaint.

After a defendant has been arrested or summoned to appear on a criminal charge, he or she must appear before the court. The first appearance is a hearing in which the defendant is advised of his or her rights and the procedure that will be followed. If the defendant does not have an attorney at that time, he or she is given an opportunity to obtain one if desired. If the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney, the court will consider whether or not to appoint an attorney to represent the defendant after determining the defendant's financial situation. Though often referred to as an arraignment, a first appearance is a separate court event. A defendant charged with a felony may not enter a plea at the first appearance, but he must do so at the arraignment. This first appearance always takes place in the magistrate court. In misdemeanor cases, the first appearance and arraignment are combined so that the magistrate judge proceeds to take the defendant's plea and sets the case for trial if necessary.

In felony cases, the defendant must determine if he or she desires a preliminary hearing. If the defendant requests a preliminary hearing, one is set within the time limits prescribed by law; however, a defendant may waive these time requirements if he or she desires.

A preliminary hearing is held only on felony cases and is conducted before a magistrate judge. At this hearing, the prosecuting attorney presents what evidence he or she may have to show that there is probable cause (reason) to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed the crime. If the prosecutor convinces the judge with that information, the defendant is "bound over"; that is to say, the case is referred to the district court for further action. If the prosecutor does not make an adequate showing at the preliminary hearing, the magistrate judge may dismiss the case or the charge may be reduced to a less serious offense, and the defendant will be sentenced accordingly.

If a defendant is bound over to the district court on a felony charge, he or she must then appear for arraignment before a district judge. At the arraignment in district court, the defendant is again advised of his or her rights and the procedures the court will follow from that time forward. It is at this stage of the proceeding that the felony defendant may enter a plea. It is also the point that bond will be set for the defendant if it was not set at the probable cause hearing. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the court will set the case for trial.

If the defendant goes to trial and is found not guilty, he or she is released and the previously set bond is exonerated or returned to the person who posted the bond. If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty, the next step is to order a presentence investigation. This is done in almost all felony cases and in a large number of serious misdemeanor matters.

A presentence report is prepared by an investigator assigned to a case. It details important information about the defendant that will assist the judge in determining the sentence. A copy of the presentence investigation report is made available to the defendant, the defendant's attorney, and the prosecutor. By Administrative Court Rule 32, presentence reports are confidential and may not be disclosed to other parties or agencies except by court order. The presentence report contains detailed information about the defendant's background, social history, and other issues of a private nature to the defendant. Once the court and the parties have have had an opportunity to review the presentence report, a sentencing hearing is held at which time the judge pronounces the terms of the defendant's sentence.

Traffic Case Process

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In Idaho, all traffic violations are handled by the magistrate division of the district court. The method of handling traffic citations depends upon whether the offense is an infraction or misdemeanor.

Any person issued a Uniform Citation (traffic ticket) is required to acknowledge service of the summons by signing a promise to appear printed on the bottom of the citation. The signature of the person receiving the citation indicates only a promise to appear and is not in any way an admission of guilt. If the driver refuses to sign the written promise to appear, the law enforcement officer may serve the citation on the defendant by personal delivery to him.

A. Misdemeanors: For misdemeanor traffic offenses, the defendant is normally required to appear in court in the county where the offense is alleged to have occurred. The defendant may request arraignment on the charge in another county moreconvenient to him or her. This request is made to the officer issuing the citation who may grant or deny it, although usually it is granted.

In the event a plea of not guilty is subsequently entered on a citation transferred from another county, the case may be sent back and the trial held in the county where the offense allegedly occurred.

Citations are filed by the issuing officer with the court indicated on the summons. If the defendant fails to appear in court on the date indicated on the citation, the magistrate judge can issue a warrant for the arrest of the defendant. The charge is for failure to appear. When served, this warrant results in the arrest of the defendant and may lead to incarceration if the defendant is unable to post the bond set by the magistrate judge on the warrant.

The amount of bail for misdemeanor traffic offenses is set forth in the Idaho Misdemeanor Criminal Rules.

A defendant entering a plea of not guilty to a misdemeanor traffic citation charge may have a trial before a judge or jury. A trial before the judge is a relatively informal procedure if the defendant is not represented by an attorney. The prosecuting attorney is representing the law enforcement agency that issued the citation.

A trial by jury always involves a prosecutor for the state, and the defendant is advised, although not required, to be represented by an attorney.

Once a penalty is imposed, the defendant remains in the custody of the court until fines and court costs have been paid. If a defendant is able to pay the fine but refuses to pay, the defendant can be incarcerated in the county jail until fines and costs are satisfied at the rate of $5.00 per day. Many courts offer defendants the opportunity to perform community service work in lieu of payment of fines.

B. Infractions: Minor traffic offenses in Idaho are called infractions. An infraction is not a crime but is a civil public offense for which there is a maximum penalty of $100.00 and for which there can be no jail time imposed. The Supreme Court has established by court rule a fixed penalty schedule for infraction violations. The fixed penalties cannot be increased, decreased, suspended, or withheld by any court. The penalty is more in the nature of a fee, and the fixed penalty is not a criminal fine. Because an infraction is not a crime, a defendant may never be arrested for an infraction and may never be required to post bail.

Because an infraction is civil in nature, if a defendant does not appear on an infraction citation, the driver cannot be prosecuted for a misdemeanor for failure to appear. Instead, if the defendant fails to appear on an infraction citation, default judgment can be entered against the driver in the same manner as in any other civil action. Also because the infractions are civil in nature, the defendant is not entitled to a trial by jury.

The defendant may admit the infraction charge and pay the fixed penalty by either appearing at the courthouse and paying the court clerk or by mailing the fixed penalty amount to the court. If the defendant denies the infraction charge, the clerk will set a date for a court trial.

If the court enters a judgment finding the defendant committed an infraction offense, either by entry of default judgment in those cases where the defendant failed to appear on the infraction charge, or by entering a judgment after a trial on the infraction, the defendant is notified to pay the fixed penalty amount. If the defendant fails to pay a penalty after notice has been sent, the Department of Transportation suspends the driver's license. If the defendant resides out of state, the Department of Transportation can request that the defendant's resident state suspend the defendant's driver's license. If the defendant then appears in court and pays the penalty, the defendant may have his license reinstated by the Department of Transportation. The Department requires the payment of a reinstatement fee before the license is issued.

Juvenile Case Process

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With the exception of certain traffic, alcohol, tobacco, and watercraft violations, persons under the age of 18 years who violate any federal, state, local law or municipal ordinance are processed under the Juvenile Corrections Act. Juvenile cases are customarily handled in the magistrate division of the district court.

As a rule, neither the juvenile court nor any of its officers are allowed to initiate action to bring a juvenile before the court. Usually such action begins with law enforcement. When an officer believes that a juvenile has broken the law, he or she files a report concerning the alleged offense. If further action is desirable, a report requesting that a petition be filed with the juvenile court is submitted to the prosecuting attorney.

The prosecuting attorney reviews the case and determines if there is sufficient evidence to bring the matter before the juvenile court. If the prosecutor believes there is sufficient evidence, the petition is filed with the court.

A petition is the formal document that sets forth the specific act with which the juvenile is charged. Unless such a petition is filed, the juvenile may not be brought before the court, except to be released from detention.

Once a petition has been filed, a probation officer conducts an interview with the juvenile and with one or both of the parents or legal guardian. This interview advises the juvenile and his or her parents of the content of the petition and advises all parties of their constitutional rights. It is also used to obtain as much information as possible to aid the court in making the most fair and helpful decision in the event that the juvenile is found within the purview of the Juvenile Corrections Act. The probation officer tries to answer questions that the juvenile or parent has about the court process and sets the time and date for the initial court hearing.

If the probation officer concludes that formal court action would not serve the best interests of the juvenile or the public, he or she may recommend to the court that the case be dismissed or that the juvenile diverted into a community program such as a youth court. The judge may accept or reject the recommendation.

Present at the court hearings are the judge, the in-court clerk, a probation officer, the juvenile, his or her parents, and attorneys if desired. Other persons may attend if the court opens the proceedings pursuant to court rules. Typically, such persons as school counselors and police officers may attend.

At the start of the court hearing, the judge reviews the petition to determine if the juvenile and his or her parents understand the charge. If copies of the petitions have not been served, they are delivered to the juvenile and his or her parents at the hearing.

Before the facts of the petition are discussed, the judge reviews the constitutional and legal rights of all parties. The court then determines whether or not the facts as contained in the petition are true. If the juvenile denies the charge, the case is set for hearing.

If the court finds the juvenile within the purview of the Juvenile Corrections Act at the conclusion of the hearing or by the juvenile's own admission, the court proceeds to make disposition.

The court has a number of alternatives in making disposition. Briefly, they are:

  • dismissing the case after counseling by the judge or probation officer;
  • continuing the case for a specific action (such as paying restitution) to be completed by the juvenile and then dismissing the charges;
  • completing short- or long-term counseling;
  • referring the defendant for psychological or psychiatric evaluation and treatment;
  • completing probation in which the child is allowed to remain at home, subject to supervision by the court; or commitment to a juvenile detention facility for a period of 30 days or less; or referral of the child and/or his or her family to another community agency;
  • committing the juvenile to the Department of Juvenile Corrections which could place the juvenile at the Juvenile Corrections Center or, in some cases, the State Mental Hospital.

In felony or more serious misdemeanor cases the court may transfer the case to the district court to be processed under adult criminal law. Under Idaho Code, the juvenile must be at least 14 years of age to be tried as an adult.

Grand Juries

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It should be noted that the grand jury system is a mechanism for bringing a serious criminal matter to the district court. A grand jury is a panel of citizens called together to hear evidence and determine if criminal charges should be initiated.

Grand jury proceedings are private and secret, prospective defendants are not entitled to be present at the proceedings, and no one is allowed to cross-examine witnesses on the defendant's behalf. Information presented to the grand jury is presented by prosecuting attorneys.

The grand jury has broad investigative powers and may compel the attendance of witnesses or compel answers to questions and submission of records. If the grand jury determines that criminal proceedings should be initiated, it returns what is called an indictment. Based on this indictment, the court causes either a summons or an arrest warrant to be issued. The individual then appears before the district court to answer the charges and enter a plea at an arraignment. Effectively, the grand jury process eliminates the necessity for the preliminary hearing and any proceedings in the magistrate division.


Main County Administration Building
Physical Address: 451 Government Way, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 83814 Mailing Address: PO Box 9000, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 83816-9000
Main Phone Number: (208) 446-1000 Contact Us
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