Here in my ultimate guide to the standard steps in a criminal jury trial, from the selection of the jury to the reading of the verdict. In between, I will explain many of the different components of a criminal trial. I will continue to add resources and information to this guide!
Standard Steps In A Criminal Jury Trial
- 1 Standard Steps In A Criminal Jury Trial
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A criminal defendant goes through the different stages of the criminal justice process. Most of the time, a criminal trial will not happen for several reasons, such as a plea bargain or dismissal due to an omnibus pretrial motion. And some trials are judge trials, which means that a criminal defendant opted not to have a trial in front of a jury. Why would a defendant want that? For time (a speedier trial), or because the charges are mostly legal argument in nature.
But for those defendants who opt for a criminal trial before a jury, he or she could expect the following to happen. (Depending whether the trial is in federal court, or the state jurisdiction.)
Last Minute Pre-Trial Motions
Most of the time, motions are handled well before trial. But before picking a jury, the prosecution and the defense may argue some last minute pre-trial motions that could not be done before. The judge will also set the trial schedule at this point. The motion to dismiss is a very common last minute motion, based on the evidence thus far (which the two sides must have given each other, especially the prosecution, who could have a case overturned if it did not hand over exculpatory evidence).
Entire books and law school courses are made in the selection of the right jury. Most jury trials have 12 jurors, although some states allow for less. In a criminal trial, you are innocent until proven guilty. You also have a right to a jury trial of your peers: 12 semi-randomly chosen people from your community. And in most circumstances, their votes have to be unanimous, or the jury will hang.
Also, you need 2 alternate jurors.
Explanation Of The Charges and Jury Instructions
After selection, the judge will then explain stuff to the jury, including what they are supposed to do and what the charges are. The charges are important, and will be repeated several times in the course of the criminal trial.
The prosecution will then give its opening statement. Sometimes, but not always, the defense gives its opening statement. However, the defense can waive (not common) or wait (common) for the prosecution to finish its case-in-chief before giving an opening statement. The advantage to that is that the defense can target the prosecution’s main points.
The prosecution will then put on its case, or why the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. “Reasonable doubt” is the standard used for all criminal trials. This is not beyond all doubt, which is what most television shows like to portray. This is what would make a reasonable person have a doubt in their minds.
Another point is about circumstantial evidence versus hard evidence. All evidence in a trial except for DNA analysis is circumstantial evidence. There are also two standards for what is admissible in a criminal trial: the Daubert standard and the Frye standard. Whichever standard is used, the expert testifying on the evidence in question must issue a written report prior to the trial.
Right smack in the middle of the trial, before the defense puts on their case, you might see some more trial motions. The biggest one is the the motion for a directed verdict. That basically means that the prosecution failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crimes he or she was charged with.
Defense’s Case In Chief
Now it’s the defense’s turn. The defendant does not have to testify. The prosecution cannot compel a defendant to testify, and the jury is not allowed to use the fact that the defendant did not testify against him or her.
The prosecution gives its closing statement first, followed by the defense, and then the prosecution can have a rebuttal closing statement.
The jury is then taken back to a special room to deliberate, or decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. A foreman is chosen.
The jury will hand its decision to the judge, and the foreman will read the verdict.
Sometimes the defendant is sentenced right away, and sometimes there is another sentencing date.
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