What is evidence?
One of the most important steps you can take when getting ready for court is preparing your evidence. Evidence is information a party presents to prove their case. Evidence can be in two main forms:
 
  • Witness testimony (people):
    • The parties involved in the case;
    • Other people who have direct and relevant information about the case, including records; or
    • Experts qualified to give an opinion about some part of the case.
  • Exhibits (things):
    • Documents or objects used to prove your case (or disprove the other side’s case);
    • Photographs; or
    • Records, such as police records, medical records, bills, appraisals, school records, financial statements, etc.
What are the rules for presenting evidence?
There are rules of evidence that everyone must follow. The rules are in place to make sure that the judicial officer gets reliable, relevant, and accurate evidence to consider when making decisions about your case. A very important step you should take to prepare for a hearing is to review the rules of evidence. If you are representing yourself, you are expected to know the rules and to follow them.
 
There are many different rules of evidence. Some of the most important rules of evidence are:
  • Generally, people can only talk about what they know first-hand (what they themselves saw, heard, felt, smelled, tasted, etc.). There are some exceptions to this rule.
  • The other side has the right to question anyone whose words (whether written or spoken) are being considered.
  • All testimony must be relevant information.
 
For more information, review the MN Rules of Evidence. You may also find it helpful to review the Civil Trial booklet.
 
You are strongly encouraged to talk with a lawyer about the rules of evidence. There are a lot of rules, and they can be hard to understand. Lawyers get special training in evidence to learn these rules. It is very important to learn the rules of evidence before you present your case at a trial or hearing.
NOTE: The courts do NOT publish sample discovery forms. You can get help from a lawyer with creating forms, or you may be able to find sample forms at a law library.
 
Before a case goes to trial (sometimes called the “pretrial phase”), there is an important step called “discovery.” Discovery is a formal process of gathering information, after a case has been filed. During discovery, both sides can collect and exchange information about the case and prepare for trial.
 
Discovery is meant to give the parties involved more information about the case. Discovery can be used to get witness statements, gather documents or other physical information needed for a case, and to ask specific questions of the other parties.
 
Information gathered during discovery can sometimes help you decide if you should try to settle the case without a trial or how well you might do if you have a trial.
  • Initial Disclosure: In certain types of cases, the parties must share specific information with the other parties within 60 days from when the defendant’s answer is due. However, some common case types are exempt from this disclosure requirement, including family, harassment, conciliation court appeals, and forfeiture, among others. See Rule 26.01 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure for more information and a full list of exempt case types.
 
  • Interrogatories: Written questions about things that are relevant to the case that must be answered by the other party in writing and under oath. Interrogatories are done in a particular format and each party can serve another party with up to 50 interrogatories. The answers to interrogatories can be used at trial. See Rule 33 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure for more information.
 
  • Request for Production of Documents: A written request asking the other party to produce particular documents or items, and to allow the requesting party to inspect and copy, test, or sample the document, item, or electronically stored information. See Rule 34 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure for more information.
 
  • Request for Admissions: A written request asking another party to admit or deny certain facts about the case. Statements that are not denied or objected to within 30 days are generally considered to be admitted (to be true), although there are some exceptions. Responses to these written requests can be used at trial. See Rule 36 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure for more information.
 
  • Depositions: There are two different types of depositions: Deposition upon Oral Examination and Deposition Upon Written Questions.
    • A Deposition Upon Oral Examination is when a person is questioned orally under oath or affirmation. A person who can administer oaths and take testimony records the deposition either by sound, sound and visual, or stenographic means. You can take the deposition of those who are parties in the case or of third parties. 
    • A Deposition Upon Written Questions is when the party taking a deposition sends written questions to the person being deposed. A person who can administer oaths and take testimony records the person's responses to the written questions.
    • See Rule 30 and Rule 31 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure for more information about depositions, including required notices and procedures.
There are rules about when you can do formal discovery and how it can be done. Discovery cannot be done after a certain point in the proceedings. See Rule 26.04 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure for more information. Also, there are limits on the number of questions that each side can ask. It is important to learn and follow these rules. If you have questions about the rules of discovery, you should talk to a lawyer.
 
Discovery is only shared with the other side in the lawsuit. It is not filed with the court. However, parties can object to discovery requests. If the other side does not agree with the objections and insists on getting the requested information, they can file a motion in court to ask a judicial officer to decide the discovery issues.
 
Discovery can be expensive and time-consuming. It takes a lot of time to write up questions, review the responses, and argue in court, if necessary, if the other side did not respond to everything they should have. It also takes a lot of time to collect and review the documents and other evidence that may be involved in a case.
 
Discovery is complicated and often requires legal strategies. You may want to have a lawyer help you with discovery or get legal advice about the discovery process. If you are representing yourself, discovery may be a good part of your case to let a limited-scope lawyer handle on your behalf. This is called “unbundled representation.” Find out more about unbundled representation through the MN Unbundled Law Project.
Trials vs. MotionsSome of the rules and procedures that apply to motion hearings are different and generally less complicated than those that apply to trials. The information on the Discovery, Witnesses, and Exhibits tabs on this Help Topic page is focused on how to prepare your evidence for a trial rather than a motion hearing.
Usually, any witnesses must appear for the hearing or trial. The court generally only allows witnesses at trials or evidentiary hearings, not at motion hearings. At motion hearings, the court relies on written pleadings and verbal arguments made by the parties (or their lawyers, if they are represented).
Witnesses can generally be anyone who has direct (first-hand) and relevant information about the case. These might be friends, family members, people who were present when something happened such as law enforcement or a neighbor, etc. Witnesses may also include someone who has special knowledge about your situation because they are an expert, like a doctor, or someone who has certain documents or records that are important to the case, like a banker or an employer. You can also be a witness.
 
If you are representing yourself, you need to decide who to have as witnesses in your case. If you are not sure who to have as a witness, you may want to talk to a lawyer.

No, the decision whether to have any witnesses is up to you. However, people often make the mistake of assuming that the judicial officer will already know certain information without a witness directly saying it. Court cases do not work this way. If the information is important to the outcome of our case and you want the judicial officer to decide something a certain way, then you have to prove it through the evidence you present as part of your case. How you do this will depend on the situation and what you are trying to prove.

These issues are complicated, and every case is different and will require a different approach. You may want to talk to a lawyer for help with deciding what witnesses to have to best prove your case.

The only way to try to guarantee that a witness will appear to testify is to use a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order telling someone they must appear for court (and/or to produce documents or records). You should serve subpoenas on any witnesses you are not sure will voluntarily appear for the trial. If you subpoena a witness and they do not appear for the trial, the court can order a bench warrant for their arrest.
 
For more information about subpoenas, review the Subpoena Help Topic, the “Subpoenas and Witness Fees” section of the Civil Trial Booklet, and Rule 45 of the MN Rules of Civil Procedure.

Yes. In most cases, the judicial officer will issue something called a pretrial or scheduling order. The order will likely include a deadline for when you and the other party must exchange Witness Lists (and Exhibit Lists). Exchanging this information allows both sides to better prepare for trial. A Witness List is a listing of all the witnesses you plan to have testify at the trial.

 

Even if the judicial officer does not order it to be exchanged before the trial, creating a Witness List may help you better prepare for trial.
You can send the other party a letter asking for their list. If you do, keep a copy of the letter for your records. If the other party never gives you their witness list, at the time of the trial you can ask the judicial officer to consider not letting them call any witnesses.
At the trial, things will happen in this order:
  • Opening statements
  • Plaintiff/Petitioner’s case-in-chief (witnesses and exhibits)
  • Defendant/Respondent’s case-in-chief (witnesses and exhibits)
  • Final arguments (also called closing statements)
 
When it is your case-in-chief, you must ask your witnesses questions, which is called “direct examination.” Generally, you start direct examination by asking the witness basic questions such as their name and address. If your witness is testifying as a professional, such as a police officer, you might also ask them for information about their job, their education, how long they have been doing their job, etc. You should also ask specific questions about the information the witnesses have about your case.
 
You may want to outline the questions you plan to ask your witnesses and make notes about any documents or other evidence you need to ask them about. You can practice with your witnesses ahead of time. Make sure your witnesses are ready, not just for questions you will ask them but questions the other side may ask as well, called “cross-examination.” Make sure you know what your witnesses will say and that they know they need to tell the truth.
 
You will also have a chance to question the other side's witnesses during cross-examination. The other side will question their witnesses first during their case-in-chief. The judicial officer will then give you an opportunity for cross-examination. You may want to outline questions to ask the other side’s witnesses. Be prepared with follow-up questions, documents, or other evidence to ask them about. You can also choose not to cross-examine a witness.
 
Review the Civil Trial booklet for more information.
Yes. You are allowed to give testimony on your own behalf if you wish. Remember that if you choose to testify, the other party or their lawyer can then cross-examine you just like any other witness. You may want to talk to a lawyer to see if this is a good idea in your situation.
 
If you plan on using yourself as a witness, your name should be included on your Witness List. Instead of asking yourself questions like you would with other witnesses, you would just state relevant facts in a straightforward way.
Documents, pictures, and other physical evidence are called “exhibits.” Like witness testimony, exhibits must be presented during the trial and the rules of evidence apply to any exhibit that a party “offers” as evidence. When you offer an exhibit as evidence, you are asking the judicial officer to admit (allow) the evidence and make it part of the official record of the trial.
 
When you offer an exhibit, you must be prepared to explain why it is allowed under the rules of evidence. Also, even if the other party agrees to admit the exhibit into evidence, you would still need to explain the significance of the exhibit to the judicial officer if you want to use it to support your claim.
 
If you can't show that an exhibit is admissible under the rules of evidence, it will not be allowed as evidence and you will not be able to use it in your case.
Before the trial starts, the judicial officer might ask if you and the other party have “stipulated to the admissibility” of any of the exhibits. Stipulating to admissibility means that both sides agree that an exhibit should be considered as evidence in the trial. It is common to stipulate to the admissibility of evidence if there is no dispute that the document or object is authentic. For example, in a breach of a contract case related to repairs on a home, both sides might stipulate to the admissibility of a photograph of the roof taken on a particular date.
If you are representing yourself, you need to decide what to offer as exhibits to prove your case. If you are not sure what your exhibits should be, you may want to talk to a lawyer. Court staff cannot tell you what exhibits to offer as evidence.
No, the decision whether to offer any exhibits is up to you. However, people often make the mistake of thinking that the judicial officer will already know certain information without exhibits that expressly show it. Court cases do not work this way. If the information is important to the outcome of your case and you want the judicial officer to decide something a certain way, then you have to prove it through the evidence you present as part of your case. How you do this will depend on the situation and what you are trying to prove.
 
These issues are complicated, and every case is different and will require a different approach. You may want to talk to a lawyer for help with deciding what exhibits you should offer as evidence to best prove your case.
Yes. In most cases, the judicial officer will issue something called a pretrial or scheduling order. The order will likely include a deadline for when you and the other party must exchange Exhibit Lists (and Witness Lists). The Exhibit List is a brief description of each of the documents and/or objects you plan to offer into evidence at the trial. The judicial officer may also require the parties to show each other their exhibits before the day of the trial. This allows both sides to better prepare for trial.

Even if the judicial officer does not order it to be exchanged before the trial, creating an Exhibit List may help you better prepare for trial.
You can send the other party a letter asking for their list. If you do, keep a copy of the letter for your records. If the other party never gives you their exhibit list, at the time of the trial you can ask the judicial officer to consider not letting them offer any exhibits.
Below are some common steps for offering an exhibit. Keep in mind that these are general steps, and each case and/or each judicial officer may require something slightly different.
Also, these steps may be different if you are in a virtual hearing.
 
  1. Show the exhibit or provide a copy to the other side (or their lawyer if they are represented).
  2. Show the exhibit or provide a copy to the witness. You should ask the judicial officer if you can “approach the witness.” In some cases, the bailiff/deputy or court staff may show the exhibit to the witness.
  3. “Lay the foundation” for the exhibit.
  4. Ask the judicial officer to enter the exhibit into evidence. The other party (or their lawyer, if they are represented) may object to the exhibit if they have a reason.
  5. If the exhibit is admitted, mark the exhibit for identification using letters or numbers. The pretrial or scheduling order may specify how the judicial officer would like each party to mark their exhibits in advance, or this may be done by court staff at the trial when something is offered into evidence.
 Some of these steps are explained in more detail in the questions below.
 
NOTE: Most courts are using the Minnesota Digital Exhibit System (MNDES) to upload digital exhibits (audio, video, documents, and images) for hearings and trials (if your case is in Hennepin County, contact court administration to ask whether you will be able to use MNDES for your exhibits). How you share exhibits with the court, how you show exhibits during the hearing, and how you mark exhibits may be different if using MNDES. To learn more about MNDES, visit the MNDES tab above.
When you offer exhibits at the trial (or before, if ordered to do so earlier), you must have the original document or object, and at least three copies of any documents (one copy for the judicial officer, one copy for you, and one copy for each of the other parties). These steps may be different if you are in a virtual hearing.
 
Each party’s exhibits will need to be marked. Exhibits are typically marked by placing a sticker on the document or object with consecutive letters or numbers (for example, “Exhibit 1,” “Exhibit 2,” “Exhibit 3,” etc.). Sometimes, exhibits are marked before the day of the trial. If the pretrial or scheduling order assigns exhibit numbers for each party to use, this is how the exhibits should be marked. Some judicial officers prefer that the court clerk or court reporter mark the exhibit when it is offered at trial instead.
 
NOTE: If the court where your case is filed is using the Minnesota Digital Exhibit System (MNDES), the marking will be done through MNDES. Visit the MNDES tab above for more information. 
Laying a foundation for an exhibit involves proving to the judicial officer that the exhibit you want to introduce is relevant and allowed under the rules of evidence. This is typically done by questioning a witness, and asking them to confirm that they: 
  • are familiar with the exhibit;
  • understand what it is; and
  • agree that it is real and accurate. 
Laying a foundation is critical when introducing exhibits at trial. Without a proper foundation, the court may not admit exhibits and it is possible your key evidence could not be considered at trial. If you have questions about how to lay the foundation for specific exhibits, you are encouraged to read the Rules of Evidence or talk to a lawyer.
The MN Digital Exhibit System (MNDES) is a way to share digital exhibits with the court and the other parties in a case for evidentiary hearings or trials without the need for physical copies. It allows users to easily submit, store, and access digital exhibits (audio, video, documents, and images) in a consistent manner statewide. MNDES is a simpler, more secure way of managing digital exhibits than by email, network drives, or digital storage devices, and allows exhibits to be easily accessed for both remote and in-person hearings.

Submitting exhibits via MNDES is the easiest way to provide digital exhibits to the court. You must also follow Court Rules concerning exhibits, including sending the exhibits to other parties involved in your case, unless there is a court order that directs you to not contact another party such as an Order for Protection (OFP), Harassment Restraining Order (HRO), or Domestic Abuse No Contact Order (DANCO). If this applies to you, talk to a lawyer for help with serving your exhibits.
 
The Rules of Evidence apply to exhibits submitted through MNDES the same way they do to physical exhibits. Because these rules can be complicated, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer for help with your case.

 

Registration is easy and only takes a few minutes. Read the Quick Reference Guide (QRG) – Creating and Managing a MNDES Account for instructions.
 
MNDES is compatible with Chrome, Edge, and Safari browsers. The only information you need to register is your legal first and last name and a valid email address. After you create an account, you will receive an email from MNDES (dem@imagesoftinc.com) to complete registration and then you will be able to access MNDES, set up your profile, and submit exhibits into a specific case. You should receive the registration email immediately, so please check your spam or junk folder if it is not in your inbox.
 
If your email address changes and you need to update your MNDES user account, you can update your email address on the “My Profile”, Advanced Profile Settings page in MNDES. See the QRG - Creating and Managing a MNDES account for more information.
 
If multiple people within the same office need to work with exhibits, you can set up a MNDES account using a generic group email account so that exhibit management duties can be shared within the same firm.
 
It is possible to submit an exhibit for a hearing without an account if you do not want to create one by asking court administration staff to send you a link. However, you will not be able to access that exhibit or any MNDES functionality until an account is set up. Also, the judicial officer who hears your case may decide to order you to create an account in MNDES to submit your exhibits.
 
Use the MNDES Contact Us form to submit a question by email and we will do our best to respond within 24 hours. You can also contact us by phone by calling (651) 413-8160 (if you are calling from area code 612, 651, 763, or 952) or by calling (833) 707-2791 (for all other callers).
 
Keep in mind that you are responsible for following any deadlines that apply to your court case. You can also contact your local court administration office.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • Update the Exhibit Name so that it briefly describes the content and is easily identifiable (for example, “picture of rear passenger door”).

  • Only include an Exhibit Number if the judicial officer instructs you to do so. Check to see whether your judicial officer issued something called a “scheduling order” and, if so, follow any numbering instructions that were included.

  • Do not zip or compress an exhibit file. It should be uploaded in the original format, such as a pdf, jpg, etc.

  • Upload exhibits individually so they are listed separately in MNDES. Do not combine multiple exhibits into a single file.

Ensure the exhibit is properly redacted before uploading.

No, zipped or compressed exhibits should not be submitted. Each exhibit should be uploaded as a separate file. However, you can upload individual exhibits in different formats at the same time.

If the sensitive information is not necessary for your case, you may redact that information before uploading your exhibit.

Those with access to the MNDES account, the court, and any parties the exhibits have been shared with can view exhibits that you have submitted. However, exhibits can only be modified or deleted by those who have access to the MNDES account that uploaded the document.

MNDES accepts all commonly used file types for audio, video, document, and image files. Read through the list of acceptable file types for more details.
 
The current file size limit that can be uploaded to MNDES is 100 GB (100,000,000 KB). Keep in mind that larger files will take longer to upload. If you are uploading a larger file, it will take the system longer to complete the upload process so that your file will be ready.

It depends on the type of case and type of exhibit. Exhibits in public cases are viewable in your MNDES portal account. Non-public cases or exhibits marked as “non-public” based on court rules are not viewable from your MNDES portal account and are only available for court administration and judicial officers.

MNDES is only used for exhibits that will be formally offered at a hearing (generally an evidentiary hearing) or trial as evidence. Attachments that need to be filed with a document must be submitted to the court with the associated document when it is filed with the court (either in person, by mail, or through the eFile and eServe (eFS) System).

You must offer (asking the judicial officer to allow) your exhibits to be accepted as evidence at the time of the hearing or trial. Exhibits uploaded through MNDES will not be reviewed and considered by the judicial officer until they are offered into evidence. See the “Exhibits” tab above for more information.

Exhibits that you upload and do not use remain in MNDES until the retention period for all exhibits is reached. If you would like, you can submit a deletion request from the portal to have it deleted sooner.
 
You can request an exhibit be deleted any time before it is used in a hearing. Court staff review deletion requests. Requests that are approved will process within 24 hours. If your request is denied, you will receive an email with a reason for the denial.

Yes, the appellate courts can see exhibits in MNDES after district court staff have reviewed them to confirm the exhibits are part of the record on appeal.

Use the Contact Us form and we will do our best to answer within 24 hours. Keep in mind that you are responsible for following any deadlines that apply to your court case.

 
You can also use the Contact Us form if you would like to give feedback about MNDES.

Attorney Frequently Asked Questions

Alford packets are discovery and MNDES should not be used to store discovery unless a judicial officer orders otherwise.

MNDES can be used to upload Florence Packets. Counties and districts should work with their judicial officers to implement a standard process for submission (e.g., exhibits uploaded individually to MNDES; not on a disc or bundled submission) and communicate it to justice partners.

Yes. Court staff will set up devices to allow jury access to digital exhibits, as authorized by the judicial officer.