What’s the Difference Between a Hearing and a Trial?

A hearing is to a trial what a battle is to a war. 

During the pendency of a case, the parties to a lawsuit may experience ongoing conflicts, ranging from minor disagreements to serious disputes.  When these pretrial conflicts arise, the judge will ordinarily conduct a hearing and allow both sides to make arguments and/or offer evidence limited to the point in dispute.  At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will determine which side prevails in that particular matter, but this pretrial ruling generally will not resolve the entire case. 

When the day of trial comes, however, both sides will present all of the argument and evidence necessary to decide the entire case.  After all of the argument and evidence is presented, either the judge or the jury will make a decision that once-and-for-all determines which side wins the entire case. 

For example, one side may make a pretrial motion for change of venue.  At the venue hearing, the judge may agree with the other side that the case should remain in the court where it was filed, but that ruling will not resolve the case. At some later point, there will be a trial to determine who wins and who loses, and just because the party lost at the venue hearing doesn’t mean that they might not ultimately win at trial.

So, just as an army can lose a battle but win the war, one party may lose at a hearing, or even a series of hearings, but end up winning the lawsuit.  And vice-versa.

— Bonnie Sudderth, Judge of the 352nd District Court of Tarrant County, Texas

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