The Jury Trial is the Most Complex Hearing in a Criminal Prosecution
Few criminal defense lawyers are routinely successful in their jury trials. The most successful trial lawyers have a team providing backup and a desire to fight fearlessly!
Lawyers Who Routinely Win are Rare
Jury trials require preparation, skill, a little luck, and stamina. A top criminal defense attorney must be prepared for the expected and the unexpected. A great trial lawyer will be able to handle anything that develops.
Start of Trial
The start of trial starts with picking a jury. The process of jury selection is often called “voir dire” or to tell the truth. The process of picking a jury is critically important as these are the people who are going to decide the facts of the case.
Once the potential jurors are brought into the courtroom, they are told about the charges and the asked preliminary questions. The potential jurors are given an oath and then a set number of jurors are asked to sit in the jury box. The judge first questions the jurors in the jury box. In most courts, the jurors are then questioned by the prosecutor and then lastly by the Criminal Defense Trial Attorney. During the initial questioning by the parties, each side can request that a juror be removed “for cause.” A “for cause” removal is based on an apparent bias or an argument that the juror is not fit to be a juror.
Once jurors are “passed for cause,” each side is allowed the strike a set number of jurors for no reason at all (called a peremptory challenge). Once the prosecution and defense are out of challenges, a jury is formed. The jurors are sworn to follow the rules of being a juror and finally the case is set to begin.
After the jury is selected, the judge instructs the jury on the law. This is frequently called preliminary instructions.
Opening Statements – The Start of Battle
After instructions, each side is allowed to make an opening statement. Opening statements are a road map for the jury about what each side believes the evidence will show. Opening statements are not evidence.
Testimony and Evidence are Introduced
After opening statements, the prosecution presents its case, usually by witnesses, police officers, evidence technicians, and experts. Each case is different and not all cases have the same number of witnesses. The defense has the opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses. Frequently, the skill and tenacity of the defense lawyer makes the difference in breaking the prosecution’s case with tough cross-examination.
After the prosecution presents its case, the defense gets to present its case. The Defense is not required to present any evidence. Often times, the defense doesn’t present a case. The defense has no burden to present a case and with the presumption of innocence, is entitled to a verdict of “not guilty” if the prosecution has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Defense does present a case, it does so by presenting evidence through witnesses, experts, and the testimony of the defendant if he/she chooses to testify.
Once the defense is finished presenting its case, the prosecution may present testimony to rebut the defense. Once that is complete, the evidence is finished.
Closing Arguments – The Final Battle
After the close of proofs, it is time for closing arguments. Like opening statements, closing arguments are not evidence. Closing arguments are the time each party argues what inferences can be made regarding the evidence. The prosecution makes the first closing argument followed by the defense. After the defense makes its closing argument, the prosecution has one final closing argument since it has the burden of proof.
In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.
After each side has completed closing arguments, the court will instruct the jury on the law again. The instructions after the close of proofs are called “closing instructions.” The jury instructions are the law that the jurors must follow when examining the evidence.
After the final jury instructions, the jury is taken to the jury room for deliberations. Once they reach a verdict, they notify the bailiff. The judge calls the parties into the courtroom and the jury returns the verdict.
If the case goes the right way, there is a two-word verdict…“Not Guilty!”
Jury trials are complex. They are nothing like those that are portrayed on television. Picking the jury takes anywhere from half a day to a full week depending on the type of case. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney is critically important because of the unexpected things that invariably happen during any jury trial.
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