Criminal Trial Procedure

Criminal trials can be long and tiresome, especially if you do not know the procedure. If you are the defendant in such a case, you will be better off knowing what to expect. The entire process is summed up in five key parts:

Jury Selection and Opening Statements

In jury selection, your lawyer and the prosecutor work together with a judge to determine the best candidate for the task. Each juror is asked some questions by the lawyers to determine whether they are objective.  Your criminal lawyer can use "peremptory" challenges or a challenge "for cause" to excuse a juror if he/she feels the juror cannot be objective, or if the juror shows bias towards certain laws. A juror in a drug possession case may be excused using a challenge for cause if he/she indicates bias against certain drug laws.

After a jury has been selected, the opening statements are made by the prosecutor and defence attorneys respectively. The prosecutor represents the government, and it is upon him/her to prove your guilt. Your lawyer simply demonstrates the weakness of the arguments made by the prosecutor.

Witness Testimony and Cross Examination

At this stage, evidence is brought forward by the prosecutor to convince the jury of your guilt. Eyewitnesses and experts are brought forward to testify. Documents, medical records and photographs are presented at this stage. Both the prosecutor and your lawyer can introduce witnesses and have the jury listen to their testimony.  Direct examination takes place when a witness is questioned by the party that introduced them to the court. Cross-examination, on the other hand, is the questioning by another party other than the one for whom one is testifying. Re-direct examination can follow if, during cross examination, the prosecutor weakened your case as the defence.

Closing Argument and Jury Instruction

During the closing arguments, your lawyer will try to demonstrate that the prosecutor falls short of his "burden of proof" which means the jury should find you "not guilty". The prosecution, on the other hand, sums up the facts and arguments supporting a guilty verdict.

After the closing arguments are made, the judge will instruct the jury on the legal standards it needs to determine guilt or lack thereof. The key terms are explained, and then the jury has to start its deliberations bearing in mind the arguments by the prosecutor and your defence.

Jury Deliberation and Verdict

The deliberation stage follows once the judge instructs the jury. The jurors then sit down to discuss the case, a process that can last hours, days or weeks.  Once a verdict is reached, the judge reads it out in open court in the presence of the prosecution and your defense team. In some jurisdictions, a jury is required to reach an undisputed verdict of either "guilty" or "not guilty". Where this is not the case, the judge can dismiss the case declaring a mistrial.

For more information, contact a professional such as MICHAEL WOODS & CO.