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I need to present evidence in a virtual hearing.

Virtual Court: Procedure

Learn how to offer evidence in a virtual hearing.
Overview

Guide Overview

Warning: The information in this guide is not a substitute for the advice and help of an attorney. Speaking with a lawyer about your situation is a good idea. 

When you present evidence in a hearing, you offer proof of your point of view for the judge to consider. To ensure that you effectively communicate your information so the court can consider it, you will present evidence using structured and organized steps.

Virtual hearings introduce technical hurdles that you, your opponents, witnesses, and judge may have to overcome. While technical concerns may be a drawback, virtual hearings can also allow for fewer distractions and more focus than the traditional courtroom setting. Proper preparation will let you overcome some anticipated technical difficulties; effectively communicate your arguments to the court; properly present evidence to the court; and connect with your witnesses.

This guide is intended to help you learn the steps of introducing evidence at a virtual hearing or trial.

Research Tips

Start by reading the following:  

You can also watch the video Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Texas Court Virtual Hearing:

This guide cannot answer every question. Researching the laws and regulations for your type of case is important. For more information on how to conduct this research, read the Legal Research Guide. The laws about introducing evidence are in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and the Texas Rules of Evidence. For a breakdown of the Texas Rules of Evidence, see Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Virtual Hearing.

You can go to a law library to conduct legal research. There is a directory of public local law libraries atLaw Libraries in Texas.   

Examples of books and guides to look for at a law library:   

A Texas resident who is not near a law library may access more information by registering for a freeTexas State Law Library Account. With this account, you can access a variety of online sources.

Common questions about Virtual Court: Procedure

Do I have to present evidence to a judge?

Presenting evidence offers proof of your point of view for the judge to consider. When deciding a case, a judge must follow the rules and guidelines that are created by the law. To decide, the judge will consider facts that are:

  1. Material: Related to the issues of your case;
  2. Relevant: Likely to make the issues of your case more or less likely to have happened; and
  3. Authentic: Can be proven to be true and not faked.

Facts that are not material, relevant, or that cannot be authenticated may be objected to, or challenged by, the other party in your case. More importantly, facts that are not material, relevant, or that cannot be authenticated will not be considered by the judge.

Evidence that is not presented to the judge cannot be recognized and will lead to the judge only considering a portion of the full story. Therefore, it is important that you present proof of your point of view so the judge can reach a fair and equitable decision for the parties.

Note: Your case may have more than one issue. You may need to present evidence on each issue related to your case. For example, a divorce may involve presenting evidence that proves you were married but it may also involve property issues and child custody issues. Be sure to research your case's issues to understand the types of evidence you may need to present.

Evidence can be:

  • public and business records,
  • photographs,
  • testimony,
  • voice and video recordings,
  • communications such as texts or e-mails, or
  • objects that are presented to and considered by a judge to prove or disprove a point.

Evidence must be gathered and presented in a specific way to prove that it is authentic, or true.

A judge weighs evidence that is presented in a case to make their decision and to issue orders that the participants, or parties, in a court case must follow.

Even if your evidence is relevant, material, and can be authenticated, not all evidence may be introduced at a hearing.

The court will weigh the strength of the information’s value in relation to other factors set forth by the Texas Rules of Evidence. See Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Virtual Hearing for a breakdown of evidence that may not be presented in a hearing.

Presenting evidence in person is very similar to presenting evidence virtually. While you will not physically present your evidence, you must still provide your evidence to the court and your opposing party for them to view before your hearing.

Most courts have local rules that provide deadlines for when your evidence must be submitted to the court and your opposing party. See Local Rules to learn more about local court rules and requirements. Be sure to follow the court’s timeline and rules to ensure your evidence will be available for use during your hearing. The timelines to submit your evidence may be different for an in-person hearing and a virtual hearing. If your evidence is not submitted on time, the judge may order that the evidence cannot be admitted at all.

Whether in a live courtroom or a virtual courtroom, you must follow the same steps to validate and submit your evidence to the court:

  • Provide your evidence to your opposing party and the court, following local rules;
  • Mark your exhibits for identification;
  • Present the evidence to the court and its participants;
  • Hand over the exhibits for inspection (if requested);
  • Authenticate or identify your exhibit; and
  • Offer the items as evidence to the court.

Instructions & Forms

Warning: The information in this guide is not a substitute for the advice and help of an attorney. Speaking with a lawyer about your situation is a good idea.

Checklist Steps

Familiarize yourself with the local rules and procedures of the court where your case is taking place. Check the court’s website to become familiar with any administrative orders or special procedures. Some judges have certain rules for how evidence should be prepared and presented. See Local Rules to learn about following local court rules and procedures. 

For virtual hearings, most evidence must be presented before the hearing so that the court administrator can prepare the documents to be available in a virtual setting. Turning your documents over to the court administrator does not mean your judge will have access to the information prior to your hearing. The only information that is available to the judge before your hearing is the information that has previously been filed with the court. Evidence becomes part of the record of your case when it is properly admitted during a hearing.

Make sure that you have filed the proper motions before your hearing and that you are familiar with your court’s local rules. If you have questions about preparing or providing evidence before your hearing, contact the court coordinator.

Watch the below videos for more information:

Decide which pieces of evidence are important to your case and support your position. This may include documents, photographs, videos, text messages, witnesses, or professional reports that are related to your case and support your version of events.

Evidence consists of facts that are:

  1. Material: Related to the issues of your case;
  2. Relevant: Likely to make the issues of your case more or less likely to have happened; and
  3. Authentic: Can be proven to be true and not faked.

Facts that are not material, relevant, or that cannot be authenticated may be objected to, or challenged by, the other party in your case.

Some facts that are material, relevant, and authentic may still be inadmissible in your case. Review the Texas Rules of Evidence and Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Virtual Hearing to learn more about why types of evidence can and cannot be admitted in a court of law.

Create a plan to present your evidence to the court.

You will begin by making an opening statement to provide an overview of your version of events. Your evidence should logically support your point of view and support the narrative of your side of the case.

Arrange your evidence in the way that makes the most sense to support your argument. It is best practice to mark your exhibits in the order in which you plan to introduce them. You want your evidence to support each issue being presented to the judge in a concise format to help the court easily identify what evidence relates to specific issues.

Remember, every bit of evidence must be authenticated or confirmed that it is true and correct and has not been subject to tampering. To authenticate evidence, you may need to present the witnesses that created the evidence that you want to offer to the court. Review the Texas Rules of Evidence and your court’s local rules to see the rules on authenticating evidence. For an overview of questioning witnesses, please see Questioning Your Witness in a Virtual Hearing and Questioning an Opposing Witness in a Virtual Hearing.

Note: It may be helpful to create a checklist of your exhibits and witnesses so that you can be sure you have properly presented each item before you close your case.

It is important that you know what your witnesses will say before you consider calling them in a hearing. Interview your witnesses and discover if what they have to say supports your account of events. Do not coach your witnesses on what to say or influence them as to what they are going to say. However, you should have an idea of what they will say on the stand so that you are not surprised during your hearing. To learn more about how to question your own witness, please see Questioning Your Witness in a Virtual Hearing.

Make sure your witness knows the correct time and date of your hearing. Inform your witness that they should dress professionally as if they were appearing in person. Make sure your witness has access to technology that will allow them to appear on time for your hearing. Remind your witness that the place they use for the hearing should be free from distractions and other people.

Be prepared to defend against the facts that will be presented by the other party to your case. The other party’s job is to tell their point of view. Be prepared to confront the facts that negatively affect your story including facts that contradict your version of events or attack the credibility of your witnesses. This may require collecting additional evidence that disproves the facts of your opposing party’s case.

Evidence that is submitted solely to disprove your opponent’s story but that does not prove your case may be classified as rebuttal evidence. Rebuttal evidence does not always have to follow the same rules as traditional evidence. Review the Texas Rules of Evidence to learn about rebuttal evidence.

WARNINGLying and destroying relevant evidence that does not support your facts is not allowed. Lying, or committing perjury, is a misdemeanor that may be punished by jail time and a fine. Destroying evidence may lead a judge to throw your case out, automatically decide the case in favor of your opposing party, or rule that the evidence would have supported the other party. Be prepared to best position your point of view to confront any negative facts that may come up without lying or destroying evidence. It is extremely important to talk to a lawyer if you have any questions about evidence.

Warning: The information in this guide is not a substitute for the advice and help of an attorney. Speaking with a lawyer about your situation is a good idea. 

Checklist Steps

Sharing your evidence early allows all parties to review the evidence and follow along effectively during the hearing. The court coordinator will need time to prepare your exhibits for presentation during the virtual hearing.

Evidence that is not sent on time may be banned from presentation during your hearing. Check the local and court rules to find the deadline for when you must send copies of your electronic evidence to the court and your opposing party.

You can share electronic copies of your evidence by e-mail, but e-mailing several documents can be difficult. It is a good idea to use a file-sharing platform like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box. Using a file-sharing platform allows you to organize your evidence with digital folders and share the link with your hearing participants. Make sure the folder you share only contains information that you want to be accessed by the other party. File-sharing links give anyone with the link access to everything in the folder.

Remind your witnesses of the correct time and date of your hearing. Make sure they have the correct information to access the virtual hearing and will dress professionally.

If your witnesses do not have access to the proper technology, help them create a plan to appear at the hearing in a space that is free from distractions.

If you do not have access to a laptop or computer, consider using your local Texas Legal Services Center Virtual Kiosks. Be sure to follow the instructions listed for the kiosk site to call or make an online reservation to use the kiosk before your hearing.

If you plan to use your personal computer or laptop, test your equipment to make sure that your internet connection, video conferencing software, and microphone are all working properly. Consider using a headset for better sound quality.

Even with preparation, technical issues can still occur during a virtual hearing.

If you experience technical difficulties:

  • Stay calm.
  • Tell the court coordinator about the issue.
  • Follow the court coordinator’s instructions to resolve the problem.

Many court coordinators provide instructions on how to contact them if you have any problems on the day of the hearing. Make sure their number is with you so that you can act quickly if you encounter technical difficulties.

Practice using features such as screen sharing so that you will feel comfortable using them in your presentation. The more comfortable you feel with the equipment, the smoother your presentation will be.  Fewer distractions will help the judge focus on your evidence.

Read the materials in TexasLawHelp.org’s Virtual Court: Technology section to learn about using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, or CourtCall for your virtual hearing.

Locate a quiet space to attend your hearing and check the space around you for things that may be distracting or inappropriate while you are on camera. Try to organize your space so that it looks professional.

Avoid virtual backgrounds and filters during your hearing. While they can be fun, they also may stop working mid-hearing and take away from your presentation.

Removing all distractions from your area will keep the judge focused on your presentation.

Note: Other people should not be present while you are conducting your virtual hearing. Children, pets, and other loud distractions are not allowed in your virtual hearing space during the proceedingjust like in a physical courtroom.

Warning: The information in this guide is not a substitute for the advice and help of an attorney. Speaking with a lawyer about your situation is a good idea. 

Checklist Steps

Even though this is a virtual hearing, you must dress appropriately and make sure that your environment is free from distractions. Treat your virtual hearing with the same seriousness as if it were an in-person hearing. People who would not be allowed in the courtroom may not be present in your virtual space. Children, pets, and other loud distractions should not be allowed in your personal space during your hearing.

About one hour before your hearing starts, practice connecting to your video conferencing program again. Running one last test will calm any concerns about technical issues and let you correct any lingering glitches. Adjust your microphone sensitivity, speaker volume, webcam, and lighting. Knowing your technology is working properly will give you an additional boost of confidence during your presentation.  

Review the materials in Virtual Court: Technology to refresh your memory of how to use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and CourtCall for your virtual hearing.

Many courts require you to log in to your proceeding five minutes before your hearing begins. Arriving early allows you time to figure out if you are having technical difficulties and gives you time to contact the court coordinator for help.

Be sure to keep your microphone on mute until you are asked to speak or intend to speak (in the case of an objection). Most courts will automatically mute all hearing participants when they connect to the video conferencing software. However, you should check for yourself as soon as you are connected.

Some judges will call the cases in order of the people that they can see. Whether or not your camera is on, make sure to pay attention so that you hear when your case is called.

When your hearing begins, be sure to look at the camera, or in the camera’s direction. Looking at the camera gives you the appearance of having direct eye contact with the other hearing participants. Some people might register direct eye contact as alertness and in some cases, honesty.

While it is okay to take notes and look around for several reasons, it is a great practice to try to look in the camera’s direction to maintain a connection with the other hearing participants.

If your judge or witness cannot hear you, they will show that on their face. If you think the judge or witness cannot hear you, make sure to ask if you can be heard and repeat any important points. Your goal is to make sure that you are effectively communicating your point. Paying attention to the other participants’ body language will help you decide if you are being successful.

Be sure to stay within the time that the court has allowed for your proceeding. If you do not believe the court has provided enough time for your proceeding, let the judge know why you need more time and how much more time you think you will need. The court has a schedule that it must follow. Stick to it to ensure enough time for you to present your version of events.

Warning: The information in this guide is not a substitute for the advice and help of an attorney. Speaking with a lawyer about your situation is a good idea. 

Checklist Steps

Your opening statement gives the court an overview of your case. While you will not explicitly present evidence to open your case, you will explain your overall theme and reasoning as to why your evidence will prove your case to be the correct point of view. While you continue to present your case, your theme will link the pieces of evidence together to form the story of your case.

You will use the following steps to introduce your evidence to the court:

  1. Present your evidence to the court and its participants,
  2. Allow the court to inspect the exhibits (if requested),
  3. Identify your exhibit, state who created it, and ask your witness if the exhibit is true and correct, and
  4. Offer the items as evidence to the court.

As you are presenting your evidence, you must clearly identify what it is for the court. Be specific when naming each piece of evidence and explain its relevance to the case. For example, instead of saying, “Text messages between the parties,” you might say, “May 16, 2023, text messages between party A and party B showing A threatening to throw B’s belongings onto the street.”  Identify the exhibit and state who created the exhibit.

In an in-person hearing, you would present your evidence to the court by giving a copy of the evidence to the opposing counsel and the witness and ultimately offer it to the court. In a virtual hearing, the opposing counsel (the other side’s lawyer) will already have a copy of the evidence, so you will use the share screen functions of your video conferencing software to open a copy of your evidence for all the court participants to view.

You must authenticate each piece of evidence by showing that it is true, correct, and has not been altered. While the law considers some records to be automatically authenticated, you will have to prove that most of your evidence is authentic. See the Texas Rules of Evidence and Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Virtual Hearing to learn about the rules of authenticating evidence.

Most evidence can be authenticated through witness testimony. If you have witnesses, call them to the stand and ask them questions to bring out their testimony. Direct examination involves asking open-ended questions to a witness who you have called to let the witnesses provide their version of events or opinion. Leading questions, which are questions that suggest what the answer is, are not allowed during a direct examination. But leading questions may be allowed with hostile (opposing party) witnesses. See Questioning Your Witness in a Virtual Hearing to learn more about questioning your own witness in a virtual hearing.

After you have questioned your witnesses, the opposing party or their lawyer will have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Similarly, you will have a chance to cross-examine the witnesses called by the opposing party. Cross-examination is a time to confront the facts that have been presented by that witness that may not support your case, but they are also a time to add facts that support your story. Please see Questioning an Opposing Witness in a Virtual Hearing to learn more about questioning a witness called by your opposing party.

Note: Whether you are questioning your witness, or a witness called by an opposing party, always be respectful.

Remember: Each bit of evidence or testimony that you choose to present must not only be authenticated but must also be related to the issues of your case.

If the other party believes that the evidence you are presenting is not related to the case, has not been properly authenticated, or should not be admitted according to the Texas Rules of Evidence, they will have the opportunity to object to the evidence, or challenge it. During their objection, they will state why the evidence should not be admitted, and the judge will decide if they agree.

You can also object to the evidence offered by the opposing party. To better understand when you can and cannot object, review the Texas Rules of Evidence and Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Virtual Hearing.

Like the opening statement, the closing statement is a chance to summarize the evidence that you have presented to the court. During your closing statement, you should review important points and highlight the significance of the evidence. Your closing statement is your last chance to reinforce your version of events before a decision is made in your case.

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