When either a civil or criminal case is scheduled for trial, both sides must prepare the case accordingly. Part of the preparations should include preparing each court exhibit for the trial. Each jurisdiction will have court rules that address exactly how a court exhibit must be prepared and presented to the court; however, there are some universal rules. Documents and photos must be duplicated in order to tender a copy to the opposing side. In addition, each court exhibit must be properly labeled so an accurate record can be made by the court.
The party who wishes to introduce a court exhibit must first lay a foundation for its introduction. For instance, he or she must explain what the exhibit is, how it was created, and why it is relevant to the case at hand. Permission must then be granted from the court to officially introduce the exhibit into evidence in the court record.
In most trials, each side will have evidence that needs to be admitted at the trial. Evidence may be documentary, testimonial, tangible, or demonstrative in nature. Testimonial evidence includes testimony by the parties, witnesses, or experts in the case. Tangible evidence includes things such as a weapon used in the commission of a crime. Documentary evidence includes items such as a transcribed statement made by a party or a financial record. Demonstrative evidence may be a chart or a diagram that helps the judge or jury understand the argument presented by one of the parties to the case.
All evidence must be properly admitted in a trial. Local rules will govern how a court exhibit must be prepared and marked for admission. When possible, a copy of the exhibit should be prepared for the opposing counsel and tendered before the trial during the discovery period. Tangible evidence, such as clothing, a firearm, or a footprint, cannot be copied; however, any tests done on the evidence must be shared with opposing counsel prior to trial.
At the trial, all evidence must be marked before asking the court to admit the court exhibit. Often, one side is assigned numbers while the other side is assigned letters. For instance, the plaintiff, or person who filed the lawsuit, may begin introducing his or her exhibits with the number one, making the first court exhibit introduced "Plaintiff's Exhibit 1." The defendant, or respondent, may begin his or her first exhibit with the letter A, making his or her first exhibit "Defendant's Exhibit A." By assigning numbers and letters, it helps the judge or jury know whether a court exhibit was introduced by the plaintiff or the defendant.