Understanding the U.S. Tax Court

The United States Tax Court is designed to settle disputes in its jurisdiction. It is a federal trial court. Generally speaking, any controversy related to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will be taken to Tax Court. The court is not related to the IRS or affiliated with it; it was created to give taxpayers the chance to contest delicious made by the IRS during audits and investigations. Tax Court judges preside in trials in 60 cities; the Tax Court is located in Washington D.C.

The Dos and Don’ts of Tax Court

Before your trial, make sure that you are prepared. There are a variety of behaviors that are considered unacceptable in court. Additionally, there are some things that you should make a point to do during the trial. For example, abide by the tips explained below:

  • Never act disrespectfully toward the court or the judge
  • Always keep your papers and documents organized
  • Present evidence clearly
  • Make sure that the judge is aware of all relevant information and evidence
  • Always turn off your cell phone
  • Avoid arguing with the IRS attorney or with witnesses
  • Make sure that the judge is aware of your position

What to Expect During Your Trial

On the morning of your first trial session, arrive early enough to hear your calendar call. During the calendar call, the trial clerk will read the names of each tax controversy case that has not been settled. When your name is called, step forward and state your name. The IRS attorney will do the same thing. After the calendar call, the judge will schedule a specific time for your trial.

If you are not able to come to court on the date set by the judge, you may file a motion for continuance. The judge will take your circumstances into consideration and decide whether or not the schedule can be changed. If you don’t come to court on the day indicated by the judge, you will automatically lose your case for failing to prosecute. If you realize that you can’t come to court on the date specified, contact the court immediately.

On the date of your trial, the trial clerk will call your name. The judge may ask several questions to determine the nature of your case and allow your attorney and the IRS attorney to make opening statements. Opening statements are usually not given under oath. In other words, any facts or evidence presented to the judge during your opening statement cannot be used in your favor. Any information presented by the IRS cannot be used against your side of the case. Sometimes, opening statements are given under oath to avoid repeating information.

After your attorney and the IRS have given their opening statements, both sides of the controversy are allowed to question witnesses. Each side of the controversy is allowed to cross-examine witnesses. Many times, the petitioner is the only witness in a tax controversy case. Once your side of the case has been presented, the IRS is given the opportunity to call a witness to the stand and ask him/her questions. This called a direct examination. After you and the IRS have presented both sides of the controversy, the judge may ask more questions.

After the Trial

The judge will make a decision after your case record is closed. There is not specific time period in which the judge is obligated to make a determination regarding your case. Sometimes, the judge will issue an oral opinion in court. This is called a bench opinion. Other times, the judge takes all relevant information related to the case back to Washington D.C. to review it. The judge may also issue a summary opinion. Summary opinions cannot be relied on as precedent and cannot be appealed. Additionally, the judge may issue a tax court opinion or memorandum opinion. A memorandum opinion is usually issued in regular taxes cases without unusual issues.

During Your Trial: What to Expect

Unlike most cases, the petitioner holds the burden of proof during a tax controversy trial. In other words, you must be able to prove your innocence. Your trial begins with opening statements when your attorney and the attorney with the IRS are given the opportunity to present opening statements to the judge. Usually, opening statements are not given under oath; any facts or evidence presented at this time cannot be used for or against your favor. However, opening statements may be given under oath to avoid repeating information later in the trial.

During your trail, it is important to:

  • Stay organized
  • Treat the judge with respect
  • Avoid arguing with witnesses
  • Ask pertinent questions
  • Avoid arguing with the IRS lawyer
  • Make your position known to the judge

Both sides are given the opportunity to question witnesses. In many tax controversy cases, the petitioner is the only witness. As a witness in your own case, you will be asked questions and cross-examined. Once the prosecution has questioned its own witnesses, your attorney may decide to cross-examine him/her to make sure all relevant evidence and factual information have been brought to the attention of the judge. After the judge has been given all relevant facts and information, he/she will make a decision to determine the outcome of your tax-related case.

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