Understanding the Criminal Jury Trial Process: Step by Step
An explanation of the 12 steps in a criminal jury trial process.
Here in my explanation of the standard steps in a criminal jury trial, from the selection of the jury to the appeal process. In between, I will explain many of the different components of a criminal trial. It's one of the guides I have created so that people can understand the criminal justice process.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the 12 steps involved in a criminal case can be tried before a judge and jury, and why it is so important for defendants to know their rights and to understand the process. Please seek the guidance of an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have been accused or charged with a crime.
Standard Steps In A Criminal Jury Trial
Here in my ultimate guide to the standard steps in a criminal jury trial, from the selection of the jury to the reading of the verdict. In between, I will explain many of the different components of a criminal trial. I will continue to add resources and information to this guide!
In this article, we’ll take a look at how a criminal case can be tried before a judge and why it is so important for defendants to know their rights and to understand the process.
A criminal jury trial is different from other types of trials because it involves a group of people called jurors. The judge instructs the jurors on what evidence must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before they may find a person guilty of a crime. The prosecutor presents all the evidence against the accused while the defense lawyer tries to make sure the defendant's rights are preserved and defend against the charges.
A criminal defendant goes through the different stages of the criminal justice process . Most of the time, a criminal trial will not happen for several reasons, such as a plea bargain or dismissal due to an omnibus pretrial motion. And some trials are judge trials, which means that a criminal defendant opted not to have a trial in front of a jury. Why would a defendant want that? For time (a speedier trial), or because the charges are mostly legal argument in nature.
The standard steps in a criminal jury trial are very important to know and understand, as they can make or break your case. It is not uncommon for a defendant to be found guilty of a crime that he didn’t commit when the prosecution fails to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If you have been charged with a crime, it is essential that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who will fight for your rights.
But for those defendants who opt for a criminal trial before a jury, he or she could expect the following to happen. (Depending whether the trial is in federal court, or the state jurisdiction.)
Last Minute Pre-Trial Motions
Most of the time, motions are handled well before trial. But before picking a jury, the prosecution and the defense may argue some last minute pre-trial motions that could not be done before. The judge will also set the trial schedule at this point.
The motion to dismiss is a very common last minute motion, based on the evidence thus far (which the two sides must have given each other, especially the prosecution, who could have a case overturned if it did not hand over exculpatory evidence).
The purpose of voir dire is to determine whether a prospective juror can be impartial and decide the case based on the evidence presented at trial. The judge's role is to ensure that each member of the jury pool has been exposed to all relevant information about the case, so that no one will be excluded from serving because of bias or prejudice.
The judge (and/or the prosecutor and defense attorney) should start by asking general questions about the potential jurors' backgrounds, including their age, occupation, residence, marital status, education level, religious affiliation, and any prior experience with law enforcement. Most of the time, there are standard questions to ask, but the judge and attorneys can ask almost anything.
Then, if appropriate, the judge may ask follow-up questions about specific areas of interest in the case. For example, if the defendant is charged with murder, the judge might ask questions whether a juror can apply the death penalty, if the potential juror has an issue with murder, or if the potential juror has had or is close to anyone that has had a violent crime committed against.
Entire books and law school courses are made in the selection of the right jury. Most jury trials have 12 jurors, although some states allow for less. In a criminal trial, you are innocent until proven guilty. You also have a right to a jury trial of your peers: 12 semi-randomly chosen people from your community. And in most circumstances, their votes have to be unanimous, or the jury will hang.
Explanation Of The Charges and Jury Instructions
After selection, the judge will then explain stuff to the jury, including what they are supposed to do and what the charges are. The charges are important, and will be repeated several times in the course of the criminal trial.
The prosecution will then give its opening statement. Sometimes, but not always, the defense gives its opening statement. However, the defense can waive (not common) or wait (common) for the prosecution to finish its case-in-chief before giving an opening statement. The advantage to that is that the defense can target the prosecution's main points.
The prosecution will then put on its case, or why the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. “Reasonable doubt” is the standard used for all criminal trials. This is not beyond all doubt, which is what most television shows like to portray. This is what would make a reasonable person have a doubt in their minds.
Right smack in the middle of the trial, before the defense puts on their case, you might see some more trial motions. The biggest one is the the motion for a directed verdict . That basically means that the prosecution failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crimes he or she was charged with.
Now it's the defense's turn. The defendant does not have to testify. The prosecution cannot compel a defendant to testify, and the jury is not allowed to use the fact that the defendant did not testify against him or her.
The prosecution gives its closing statement first, followed by the defense, and then the prosecution can have a rebuttal closing statement.
The judge would instruct the jurors on the law and then allow them to deliberate. The jurors would have to agree unanimously that each defendant had committed all of the elements of the crime charged. If they did not reach unanimity, the case would go back to the judge with instructions to try again. The judge would give the jury a verdict form and ask them to check off which charges they found the defendant guilty of committing. The jury is then taken back to a special room to deliberate, or decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. A foreman is chosen.
The jury will hand its decision to the judge, and the foreman will read the verdict. If the jury found the defendant guilty of more than one count, the judge would tell the jury what sentence should be imposed on each count. If the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision, the judge would dismiss the jury and declare a mistrial. At this point, the defendant may either accept the jury’s verdict or appeal the conviction.
Sometimes the defendant is sentenced right away, and sometimes there is another sentencing date. If the defendant accepts the jury’s decision, the judge will set a date for sentencing. Defendants are allowed to remain free until sentencing unless there is an objection by the prosecutor. Defendants have the right to make objections to the presentence report. After hearing from both sides, the judge will decide whether to impose the same sentence as the jury recommended. However, if the judge decides to change the sentence, the defendant has the right to appeal. The judge will also inform the defendant of his or her right to appeal.
Appellate Review (Did The Jury Get It Wrong?)
Once you have been convicted, you have certain rights. You have the right to appeal your conviction. In the case of a death penalty, this appeal may be automatic. You may choose to appeal your conviction because you believe the evidence against you wasn’t strong enough to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You may also appeal your conviction if you feel the judge made errors during the trial.To do this, you need to file a Notice of Intent to Appeal. This document gives the Court of Appeals information about your case. A defendant must file the Notice of Intent to Appeal in the statutorily-mandated time frame. This document tells the Court of Appeals when you want to appeal, and what issues you plan to raise on appeal. The appeal process is long, and sometimes, you have many different types of appeals.
There are 12 standard steps in a criminal jury trial: last minute pre-trial motions, voir dire, the explanation of the charges, jury instructions, opening statements, the prosecution's case-in-chief, mid-trial motions, defense's case-in-chief, closing statements, the jury deliberation, the verdict, and the appeal.