Although it is not as common as it used to be, many criminal cases do proceed all the way to a jury trial. These are complicated, expensive and detail-oriented affairs for all parties involved. From a defendant’s standpoint, it is important to understand the necessary steps that occur in a trial. So, what happens during a criminal trial?
The first step is oftentimes the most crucial – selecting a jury. Some of our readers may have actually been called for jury duty before and, therefore, may have had a first-hand encounter with this step in the trial process. Typically, a large number of nominally eligible individuals are called into the court and, through the process of elimination, the number is whittled down until the right number of jurors are in place, who promise to be “unbiased” in their consideration of the evidence that is presented.
Next, both the prosecution and the defense will usually make opening statements, which are oftentimes an overview of what they intend to do and to prove in the trial. From there, the case moves to its main stage: the presentation of evidence. This includes eyewitness testimony, through which evidence such as photographs, items and documents are admitted into evidence. Testimony, of course, is subject to cross-examination.
Once the presentation of evidence is completed, both sides will usually make closing arguments to summarize their stance in the case, and then the jury will be instructed by the judge and will go into deliberations. Lastly, the jury will return a verdict – guilty or not guilty – unless they are unable to make a decision, in which case the trial will end in a “hung jury” and a mistrial may be declared.
Going through the criminal justice system alone can be daunting, especially with everything hanging on the line. Having an experienced attorney by one’s side, presenting one’s version during the process can be helpful.