What is a Jury Trial?

A jury trial is a type of court proceeding where a jury, usually 12 people, determines whether a defendant committed the crimes charged based on the evidence and testimony presented during the trial. The accused is called the defendant or defense while the party that is accusing or prosecuting is called the prosecution, the People, or if it’s a federal case, the Government. 

To reach a decision the jury deliberates to decide if the defendant is not guilty or guilty. The judge resolves questions of law, which can never be determined by a jury. This includes issues on the interpretation and application of a particular law or laws as well as the relevance of law in the case where there is more than one mutually exclusive law.

In a trial, jurors deliberate on certain questions of fact to arrive at their determination. They look at how strong the evidence is and how credible the witnesses are and present their finding of guilty or not guilty to the judge. Then judge uses juries’ determination of fact to base his or her legal decision.

During the trial, both sides will be able to present their arguments. They will also be able to call witnesses to testify and will present evidence. Once all arguments have been heard, all witnesses have spoken, and all evidence has been presented, the jury will go to a special room, called the deliberation room, where they will discuss the facts of the case and decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

How Many People are on a Jury?

A jury is a group of people who are sworn to abide by the rules governing jury service and who will render a verdict after listening to all the testimony and evidence. Criminal jury trials are usually comprised of 12 people, who have been selected by the defense and prosecution.

While the trials are typically public, although not the names of the jurors, the jury’s deliberations are done in private. After reviewing the evidence, witnesses, and testimony that was presented to them, the jurors will vote on a verdict. To convict or acquit the vote must be unanimous, a vote of even one juror that is different from the rest of the group will result in a hung jury, meaning the whole trial must be done again. 

How Long Does a Jury Trial Last?

The average jury trial typically lasts about two or three days. Sometimes though a trial is more complex. There are many witnesses on both sides and lots of evidence, such trials can last several weeks or even months, although that is rare. 

A typical trial day in court usually starts at 10 am and ends around 4 or 5 pm. The defense and prosecution may be required to arrive earlier for check-in or other trial-related tasks. The court will also break for lunch from 12:45 pm and 2:30 pm. This is often referred to as a “recess.” The judge may also call a recess for other personal or legal reasons, which may end the trial early for the day.

What is Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and Burden of Proof?

Proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” refers to the standard of proof the prosecution must meet in a criminal case. The standard of proof is the level of certainty each juror must have before determining that a defendant is guilty of the crimes charged.

In practice, it is not possible to precisely define “reasonable doubt.” It can be easier to understand, however, by contrasting it to the standards of proof used in civil cases. In a civil trial, where a person’s freedom is not at stake, two possible standards of proof must be met in a case. One is the “preponderance of the evidence” (sometimes referred to as more likely than not) standard, which means certain facts or evidence presented at the trial point that more likely than not (just over 50%) the claim or the allegation is truthful. The other standard is “by clear and convincing evidence,” which means that there is a high probability that a piece of evidence, the claim, or the allegation is truthful. Using a reasonable doubt standard, a juror can have some doubt in his or her mind, but it cannot be one that would affect a reasonable person’s “moral certainty” that a defendant is guilty. Because a defendant’s liberty is often at stake in a criminal trial, the reasonable doubt standard is the highest standard of proof in the American legal system.

Another important part of the criminal trial is the requirement that the government bears the “burden of proof.” All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and therefore it is the prosecution’s job to build a case against the defendant. This means that during a trial it is the prosecutor’s job to present evidence to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendants are not required, although often they do, to present any evidence of their innocents. 

How Does a Federal Case go to Trial?

There are several ways that a federal criminal case can end up in a jury trial. One way is for the U.S. Attorney’s office to file a criminal complaint in Federal court charging various crimes against a defendant. The complaint is usually accompanied by an affidavit from the federal agent who investigated the case, describing the crimes and the reasons why the court should believe that the defendant likely committed the charged crimes in the complaint. A federal judge will then examine the complaint and the affidavit and decide whether there are enough stated facts to support the conclusion that the person more likely than not (also known as probable cause) has committed the crimes charged in the complaint. If the Judge finds the complaint and affidavit sufficient, he or she will issue an arrest warrant and the person will be arrested and brought to court for further proceedings. If any of the charges in the complaint are felonies, the government will have 30 days to present the case before the Grand Jury in order to get an indictment, which will allow the case to proceed to trial. However, defendants charged with felonies have the option to waive prosecution by an indictment and instead agree to be prosecuted by an Information, which is similar to an indictment, but which was not presented and voted for by the Grand Jury.  

Another way to start a felony federal criminal case is straight via indictment. An indictment is an accusatory instrument charging felonies against a defendant. A grand jury is a group of between 16 and 23 individuals who are members of the community where the case is being prosecuted. The grand jurors are brought together to examine evidence and hear testimony to determine if there is probable cause that the defendant committed the crime. If the grand jurors decide that the answer is yes (majority or supermajority), then they will vote to indict. After the vote the government will file the indictment in court, however, the indictment will usually remain sealed until arrest. 

How Does a New York Case go to Trial?

In New York, a person who has been charged with a Class A Misdemeanor or any Felony has a right to a trial by jury. Murder in the first degree is the only exception, it is always prosecuted via jury trial. In New York City Class B Misdemeanors and violations do not qualify for a jury trial, they are prosecuted via a bench trial, which means the judge decides questions of facts and law. Outside of New York City, a person has a right to a trial by jury for all Class B Misdemeanors.

After a person is arrested the arresting officer will present incriminating information to the District Attorney’s Office (DA). The DA will review the evidence and decide whether to prosecute the case in court. 

If the DA decides to move forward with prosecution the DA will prepare an accusatory instrument, usually a complaint, to be filed in court. Once the complaint is ready and after the state ran a background check, the defendant will go before a judge for his initial appearance, called an arraignment. During the arraignment, the defendant will plead guilty or not guilty to the charges, and the court will decide on the issue of bail and schedule further proceedings.

What are Possible Arraignment Outcomes?

  • The defendant pleads guilty
    • The court can impose a sentence right there, or
    • The court can set a future date for sentencing
  • The defendant pleads not guilty
    • The court will schedule further proceedings or a trial date
  • The court issues an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (this postpones the case to a later time and is usually contingent upon the defendant not having new arrests within the postponement period)

Sometimes, especially in cases involving domestic violence, during the arraignment, the prosecutor will request an Order of Protection in favor of the victim.

It is worth noting here that while the DA may handle a criminal case, they do not prosecute on behalf of individuals, nor do they represent the victims. Prosecutors represent the people of New York State and prosecute on their behalf.

Do Defendants Have a Constitutional Right to Counsel in a Criminal Case?

Any person in the United States who is charged with a crime has a constitutional right to an attorney if they cannot afford one. This means that if a defendant cannot afford to hire a private attorney, a court-appointed attorney at no cost to the defendant will be assigned to the case. 

Once there is an attorney on the case, he or she will begin by investigating the case, talking to witnesses, including victims, and reviewing all the evidence that the prosecutor has provided to the defense. 

What Happens After Arraignment?

After the arraignment, the case will be scheduled for further proceedings. If the Judge issued some form of bail that the defendant could not satisfy, the defendant may be remanded to jail. Once the bail conditions have been satisfied, the defendant will be released until the conclusion of the case. Many times, the defendants are released on their own recognizance, which simply means that they make a promise to return to court for all future hearings. If the defendant does not appear in court after arraignment, as was ordered by the Judge, the judge will issue a bench warrant for their arrest.

At any point after arraignment and until trial, the defendant and his or her counsel can negotiate a plea agreement with a prosecutor. The prosecutor can also make a plea offer and present it to the defense for consideration. It is also possible for the case to be dismissed or the charges to be reduced for any number of legal reasons.

What Happens During the Trial?

During the trial, the prosecution and the defense will present evidence, examine witnesses and make arguments for the jury to decide on the defendant’s guilt. There are several ways the trial can end – in a conviction if the defendant is found guilty; in an acquittal, if the defendant is found not guilty; in a mistrial, if the jury cannot reach a decision.  

Can you Waive a Jury Trial?

At any point in the criminal prosecution, a defendant can plead guilty, thus avoiding the trial. The government can also make a plea offer to the defendant, which if accepted will also avoid a trial. Most criminal cases in the United States are resolved with a plea. However, you should never enter a guilty plea or accept a plea agreement without getting the advice of your lawyer.

Sometimes defendants can waive their right to a jury trial and have a bench trial instead. Both sides and the court must agree to that. The court will accept the defendant’s waiver to a jury trial only if it finds that the waiver was made freely, voluntarily, and knowingly.

In a bench trial, the judge will be the one to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Bench trial also avoids the possibility of a mistrial. 

Under New York law, New York Constitution Article I – Bill Of Rights Section 2 – Trial by jury; how waived the defendant may waive their right to a jury trial in all criminal cases with the only exception being those crimes that carry the death penalty (i.e. first-degree murder). The defendant must submit the waiver in writing and sign it in open court in front of the judge presiding over the case. It’s important to note that in 2004 the New York Court of Appeals declared the statute regulating the death penalty unconstitutional, leaving New York with a vacant death row and no viable death penalty laws. The New York state legislature currently has no plans to revive the death penalty in the state.  

What to Do If You Are Going to Trial?

If you are going to trial or considering it, do not do anything without a lawyer. The first thing you need to do is hire a criminal defense attorney with experience handling trials, he or she will ensure that you get the best possible outcome in your trial.

Hire The Litvak Law Firm for your trial today. Mr. Litvak holds an LLM degree in trial advocacy from the top program in the United States. In addition, Mr. Litvak has an impressive track record with many high-profile criminal cases and has handled many trials. Attorney Litvak’s years of experience and many successes in the courtroom will serve you well

Call today at (718) 989 – 2908 for your free consultation. Don’t wait to see what happens, stay ahead of the game and exercise your right to get the best legal representation today.