Criminal Justice System: The Trial

Trials are held before a judge (bench trial) or judge and jury (jury trial). The deputy prosecutor and defense attorney present evidence and question witnesses. The judge or jury finds the defendant guilty or not guilty on the original charges or lesser charges. A jury's verdict must be unanimous. If the jury finds the defendant not guilty, the charges are dismissed. If the verdict is guilty, the judge will set a sentencing date.

Stages of a Trial


1. Jury Selection
2. Prosecutor’s Opening Statement
3. Defense’s Opening Statement
4. Prosecutor’s Case*
5. Defense’s Case*
6. Prosecutor’s Rebuttal Case (optional)
7. Jury Instructions
8. Prosecutor’s Closing Argument
9. Defense’s Closing Argument
10. Jury Instructions
11. Jury Deliberations
12. Verdict
Lawyer working in court
*Witnesses for both the prosecution and defense are subpoenaed to appear and testify at trial. Witnesses do not need to be present for jury selection or opening statements. All witnesses take an oath to tell the truth in court. Usually, witnesses at trial are required to remain outside the courtroom until they are called in to testify. Normally, once a witness has testified and is excused by the judge, the witness is free to leave or to remain in the courtroom. Both the prosecutor and defense counsel are allowed to question all witnesses who testify.

The Verdict


The jury may find the defendant guilty, not guilty, or may be unable to agree. A jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict is called a ‘hung jury.’ When there is a ‘hung jury,’ the case may be re-tried. A not guilty verdict means that the jury concluded that the case was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt; it does not always mean that a defendant is innocent.

Motion for a New Trial


Defendants found guilty at trial may file a motion for a new trial. The legal grounds for granting this motion may be: juror misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct, denial of a fair trial or other substantial legal error. If the court does grant the defendant's motion, another trial will be scheduled.