A jury trial is the prosecution’s opportunity to prove that the defendant is guilty of the crime or crimes they have been charged with. The burden of proof is on the prosecution so they must convince a jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant did indeed commit the crime that they are accused of committing.
This is also the defendant’s opportunity to answer the allegations against them and refute any evidence that the prosecution presents. The defendant may also present their own evidence as well.
Once both sides have made their case by presenting their arguments and evidence, the jury deliberates on the case to determine whether they are going to find the defendant guilty or not guilty of those charges.
There are several stages in a jury trial. It begins with jury selection and ends with a verdict, but there is a lot that happens in between.
A jury is a group of 12 people who are selected to participate in a trial by listening to all of the arguments and evidence, and to deliberate to find the facts of the case and determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
The first stage of a jury trial is selecting the jury. US citizens, who are also members of the community where the trial is held, make up the jury pool and are randomly selected from lists – usually from voter or DMV registrations – and must come to Court for jury service when summoned. Each potential jury member is notified by the mailing of a jury summons, that is ordered by the court. Failure to report for jury duty could result in an arrest and prosecution for contempt of court for that person.
The jurors are then interviewed and selected or to be more precise deselected. The prosecution and defense are able to ask the potential juror questions and exclude potential jurors they find problematic for various reasons. This process continues until 12 jurors remain.
The opening statements are a review of the facts of the case and are presented to the jury at the beginning of the trial. Each side provides an opening statement so that the jurors understand what the case they will be hearing is about.
These statements must contain facts only and those facts must be proven by the evidence presented later on during the trial. There can be no argumentative statements made in the opening statements.
The first party to provide opening statements is the one that has the burden of proof, which is the prosecution. The defense gives their opening statement next. This lays the foundation for the case.
Presentment of Prosecutor’s Case
The prosecution is the first to present their case in chief because they have the burden of proof. Through arguments, evidence, and witnesses, the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did commit the crime that he or she has been charged with.
They present the evidence that they have that proves their case which includes getting witnesses to testify. The defense is given the chance to refute the claims made against them, also known as cross-examination.
Presentment of Defendant’s Case
The defendant presents his or her case after the prosecution. Defendant’s case should be constructed to both present their own argument with their evidence and witnesses, and to answer the prosecution’s argument, evidence, and witnesses.
Witness Testimony and Questioning
Witnesses are often key in a jury trial because they can shed light on certain areas of the incident. Expert witnesses such as doctors, psychologists, and other experts provide a factual basis for certain parts of the case. Often their testimony is designed to educate the jury on a certain area so they can make a better determination.
An eyewitness is a person who has firsthand information about the crime or the defendant’s involvement. They may have seen the actual crime, or they saw something before or after the crime was committed.
A character witness personally knows the defendant and their testimony is intended to give the jury insight into their character or the type of person that they are. It is often used the show the defendant in a more positive light.
The attorneys on both sides interact with the witnesses, asking questions in an effort to draw out key information. This method of questioning is called “examination.”
Direct Examination – When a witness is called to give their testimony, the party that has called the witness questions them. This is called direct examination. The attorney questions their own expert witness and they use the questions to bring out key statements and evidence in the case. Once the direct examination is complete, the other side may conduct a cross-examination if they choose.
Cross-Examination – Once a direct examination of a witness is completed, the other party has the opportunity to cross-examine that witness. They can ask them questions about answers they gave during the direct examination as well as additional questions that may fill gaps in information.
Redirect and Recross Examination – After the defense completes their cross-examination, the prosecution has the opportunity to question the witness again. This is called a redirect examination. This is because some issues brought up during the cross-examination may be things that the prosecution feels needs to be clarified or explained more to support their case.
Recross Examination – After the redirect, the defense may conduct a recross examination. This follows up the redirect and addresses information that may have been brought up during the redirect that the defense feels needs to be explained further.
Both sides must keep their testimony and questions relevant to the trial at hand. The line connecting the testimonies and questions to the actual case must be fairly apparent. Parties are not allowed to present information that is not relevant to the case.
The point of these examinations is for each side to build and strengthen its case. If information is brought up that may put the defense in a negative light or might weaken one side or the other, then that side has the right to ask questions that further clarify the facts of the case.
Once the prosecution and defense have presented their cases and all witnesses have been questioned, each side has the opportunity to provide closing statements. The purpose of the closing statement is to persuade the jurors to take that side’s view of the evidence presented and its significance in the case so that jurors agree with that side’s version of the events.
In other words, the prosecution presents its closing arguments to get the jury to believe the prosecution’s version, while the defense presents its closing arguments to get the jury to side with the defendant’s version of what actually happened. Typically, the jury takes some time to deliberate before arriving at a verdict.
Jury Deliberation and Verdict
After closing arguments, the jury begins the process of deliberation. They are taken to a room where they privately and confidentially discuss the findings presented by the prosecution and defense, then decide which arguments they agree on. Usually, there is one juror who takes on a lead role, presiding over the discussions, deliberations and voting that the jurors do to arrive at a verdict. That person is also usually responsible for delivering the verdict.
The jurors deliberate in private and no one else can communicate with them. They may ask questions that are typically done through the bailiff. This keeps the process free from outside influence.
After deliberation, the jurors will reach a verdict that the defendant is either guilty or not guilty of the crime they were charged with. In order to reach a verdict, all jurors must be in agreement. If all of the jurors cannot agree, it can result in a hung jury which will lead to a mistrial. If the prosecution insists, the court must set a new date to try the case again with a new jury.
Motion to Dismiss
A motion to dismiss, usually made by the defense at the closing of the prosecution’s case or before the verdict, requests that the court dismiss the case. Motion to dismiss essentially alleges that the information, evidence, and exhibits presented to the jury during the trial cannot establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and because of this the case should be dismissed.
Motion for a Directed Verdict
A motion for a directed verdict may be made by the prosecution or the defendant before the case is submitted to the jury. It argues that any reasonable jury could not find for the opposing side. For instance, the defense may present a motion for a directed verdict claiming that no reasonable jury could find for the prosecution.
There are several motions that may be entered after the verdict has been read.
Motion for a New Trial – A motion for a new trial asserts that the presiding judge committed errors that affected the outcome of the trial, and it requests that a new trial be granted.
Motion in Arrest of Judgment – This motion calls the sufficiency of the information or evidence of a case into question and requests that the court not enforce the judgment.
If the jury delivers a verdict of guilty, then the defendant will be sentenced. This is usually done at a later time after the trial. The sentence is the punishment that is assigned to the defendant for the crime they committed.
The sentence may include the death penalty, prison time, fines, probation, community service, and registering as a sex offender. The sentence will usually follow the sentencing guidelines for the state or the federal sentencing guidelines. However, in federal cases, a judge may provide a sentence that does not follow the federal guidelines at all – as long as the sentence is not unfair or harmful and does not exceed the maximum punishment established by the statute.
In a criminal case, the defendant is the only party that has the right to appeal a verdict, although a few states do allow the prosecution to appeal under certain circumstances, which is not common. However, the defendant’s right to appeal does not last forever. To exercise this right the defendant must timely file a Notice of Appeal and then file an appellate brief within the time provided by the court rules or the scheduling order set by the appeals court.
In federal court, the defendant may file a writ of habeas corpus if they believe that there was a violation of their constitutional rights.
The appeal process is complex and can be lengthy. It is important to understand that an appeal is not a new trial or a retrial of the case. When a case is appealed it typically does not introduce new evidence or witnesses. It instead focuses on what happened during the trial and how the procedures of the trial were carried out.
If you are facing a criminal jury trial, you need experienced legal representation to ensure that your rights are protected. The Litvak Law Firm can help you whether you have just been arrested, going to trial, or are about to file an appeal – or at any point in between. Call today at (718) 989-2908 for your free consultation and get a criminal defense lawyer who has a solid track record of success and experience handling some of the biggest cases in the United States. Don’t wait to see what happens, don’t leave your life to chance. Call today.