Trial can be a very nerve-wracking experience for people accused of a crime. It helps to feel more comfortable if you know exactly what to expect.
The first thing that happens on your trial day is that the State and the Defense attorneys will both tell the Judge that they are ready to try the case. In response the Judge will place the case in the trial order. That means that your case will be one of many cases that are set to be tried that trial week. Usually only one or two cases at most are tried on a given trial week so depending on where your case lands on the trial order you may or may not be going to trial that week. Eventually your case will be number one in the trial order. This means that your case is the one that will be tried that week.
The first step in any criminal jury trial is voir dire or jury selection. During voir dire the Judge and both parties will get to ask questions of the potential jurors. The point of this process is to eliminate jurors that are likely to be against the parties and to select a jury that can fairly decide the case. Once jury selection is over the parties will have 6 or 12 jurors depending on what kind of case it is, plus some alternates. Alternates are jurors that will hear all the evidence but will not deliberate unless one of the other jurors falls ill or has to withdraw from jury service for some reason.
Once a jury is selected the next step is opening statement. During opening statements both sides will tell the jury what they expect to prove. The point of opening statement is to persuade the jury to see the case the way each party wants them to see the case. The opening statement should be backed up by the actual evidence in the case.
After opening statement the State will have an opportunity to put on witnesses and exhibits. The Defense attorney will have a chance to question the State witnesses to elicit facts favorable to the defense. When the State has no more witnesses or evidence to present the State will rest. At this point the Defense has an opportunity to petition the court for a motion for judgment of acquittal if there are any grounds for a judgment of acquittal to be granted. Judgment of acquittal is only granted in very rare instances. If judgment of acquittal is not granted the case moves forward and the Defense has an opportunity to present any witnesses or evidence that the Defense would like to present. After the Defense rests the Defense has another opportunity to petition the court for a judgment of acquittal.
If the State’s case survives a second motion for judgment of acquittal the case has to be submitted to the jury. Before the case is submitted to the jury must courts will have a charge conference. A charge conference is where the State and the Defense get to propose to the court what law applies to the case. The court determines what law applies to the case based on the evidence and submits prepares a final copy of the instructions to be given to the jury. These are the instructions that will guide the jury during deliberations.
After the charge conference but before the case is submitted to the jury the parties have an opportunity to perform a closing argument. Closing argument is the parties’ opportunity to argue to the jury what the evidence means and to try to persuade the jury to return a verdict in the parties’ favor. The State can split its closing argument in two parts, closing and rebuttal, while the Defense only gets one chance to speak to the jury during closing argument. After both parties conclude their closing argument the case is given to the jury and the jury deliberates until they reach a verdict or until they are unable to reach a verdict. A jury’s inability to reach a verdict is called a hung jury. A hung jury results in a mistrial and the matter having to be tried again if the State chooses to retry it.
If you or a family member are contemplating the prospect of having to take your case to a jury feel free to give us a call, we would love to help.
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