Criminal Trial Guide
A criminal trial involves examination of the available evidence by a jury to decide whether it is established beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did indeed commit the crime in question. The trial provides an opportunity to the prosecution to argue its case with an aim to obtain a guilty verdict. The trial gives an equal chance to the accused by and through their criminal defense lawyer to challenge the prosecution’s evidence, and offer counter evidence wherever possible.
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The first phase in most criminal trials in the U.S. is the selection of a jury. This phase typically includes the judge and the respective attorneys of the prosecution and defense side, who interview a number of potential jurors in order to evaluate their life experiences or personal biases, if any, pertaining to the case. The judge, and even the attorneys on the two sides, may excuse a potential juror at this stage, depending on their response to the questions.
Prosecution and Defense Opening Statements
After the jury selection is completed, the trial begins with two opening statements. The first statement is usually made by the prosecutor, and the second by the defense attorney. Physical evidence is not used at this stage in most cases, and witnesses are not asked to testify either.
Sometimes the defense side may wait for the prosecution to conclude its case before it makes its opening statement.
Testimony of Witnesses
At this stage, both prosecution and defense sides present their witnesses as a part of evidence to strengthen their arguments. The prosecution may call for expert witnesses, in addition to eyewitnesses, in an effort to convince the jury that the crime was committed by the defendant. Following direct examination of a witness by either side, the other side receives an opportunity to cross-examine the witness.
The closing statements of the prosecution and defense side, just like the opening statements, provide them an opportunity to summarize the case from their perspective and on behalf of their client(s). Closing arguments usually help both sides recap the evidence in a light that supports their respective positions.
This stage provides the final opportunity to both sides to address the jury before it goes into a deliberation.
Jury Instruction, Deliberation, and Verdict
The final stage in a criminal trial comes when the judge gives a set of legal standards and instructions to the jury to help decide whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. Following the instructions from the judge, the jury begins the process of deliberation, which involves an effort to agree on whether the defendant is innocent or guilty.
Once the jury arrives at a verdict, the judge usually announces the verdict in the court. Most states require that the verdict of jury in a criminal case should be unanimous. If the jury fails to reach a unanimous verdict, the judge may declare a mistrial and the defendant is able to walk out of the courtroom without handcuffs on and out the front entrance.