CHAPTER 4: OVERVIEW OF A CRIMINAL CASE - Table of Contents
4.1 - Filing of Charges • 4.2 - Arrest and Custody • 4.3 - Advisement Hearings • 4.4 - Preliminary Proceedings • 4.5 - Plea Negotiations • 4.6 - Arraignment • 4.7 - Pretrial Motions • 4.8 - Overview of a Criminal Trial
4.8 OVERVIEW OF A CRIMINAL TRIAL
The following is a brief overview of a typical jury trial. A more detailed description of a trial is in Chapter 12.
The judge will call the case set for trial and handle any remaining pretrial matters before jury selection. The prospective jurors will be brought to the courtroom and the court and lawyers will examine the jurors in the jury selection process technically known as voir dire. The parties have the opportunity to excuse jurors using challenges for cause against those jurors who - for some reason or another - cannot be fair and impartial in the case - and with a limited number of peremptory challenges that can be used against jurors who the lawyer believes will not be sympathetic to his or her case. Eventually, a jury will be selected.
The prosecutor will give an opening statement to the jury. Defense counsel then has the option of giving an opening statement or reserving opening statement until the conclusion of the prosecution's case in chief.
Once opening statements are concluded, the prosecution presents its case. The prosecutor will conduct a direct examination of each witness and introduce documentary or physical evidence. Defense counsel will conduct a cross examination of the prosecution witnesses, ask questions about the admissibility of exhibits, (in a process that is , confusingly, also called voir dire) and make appropriate objections.
When the prosecutor has presented the case in chief, he or she will rest. At this time, defense counsel must make a motion for judgment of acquittal. Failure to make a motion for judgment of acquittal can adversely affect the defendant's appellate rights.
Defense counsel may then present a case. A criminal defendant is never under any obligation to present a case. Defense counsel will conduct a direct examination of witnesses and introduce exhibits, and the prosecutor will have the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses, voir dire exhibits and make objections. Once the defense case has been presented, the defense rests.
The prosecution may then present rebuttal evidence. Rebuttal evidence is limited to evidence that rebuts issues raised in the defense case; it is not an opportunity for the prosecution to present its entire case again. Finally, the defense has an opportunity to present surrebuttal evidence. Surrebuttal is limited to evidence which rebuts that evidence presented during the prosecution's rebuttal case. Rebuttal evidence is fairly common, but surrebuttal evidence is fairly rare.
Once all of the evidence has been presented, defense counsel must renew the motion for judgment of acquittal in order to preserve appellate rights. Any other pending motions or rulings should also be cleared up at this time.
The Court and counsel will then have a jury instruction conference. Instructions will be decided upon by the court, and counsel must make a record of objections and tender any rejected instructions. The instructions are then read to the jury.
The prosecution will make a closing argument. Defense counsel then makes a closing argument. The prosecutor has an opportunity to present a rebuttal closing argument, and the case is then given to the jury.
The jury deliberates, occasionally sending out questions, until they reach a verdict. The Court calls back all of the parties and reads the verdict. If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant is discharged; if the verdict is guilty, a sentencing date will be set.
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