This is the fifth in a series of blogs about the six stages of a criminal case, and what actions you should take in each stage. Please be sure to read the previous four parts:  Initial Investigation, Arrest and Charges, Pre-Trial Court Dates, and Discovery. Always remember that all cases vary, and stages of a case can happen simultaneously. If you have any questions about criminal charges you are facing, or need a lawyer’s advice, please contact me ASAP for a free consultation. It’s very important to have someone on your side as you are facing the quagmire our legal system can become. Ensure your rights are protected at all times!

stages of criminal case trial3Will this even go to trial?

Though the trial itself is the most publicized part of a case, shown in TV dramas and splashed across the evening news, most cases don’t even go to trial. Many times, cases are resolved in other ways, through settlement, arbitration, or even dismissal. But if your case makes it to trial, there are several things that are important to know before getting there.

The Six Parts of a Trial

Like a court case itself, there are six parts of a trial.

  1. Jury Selection
  2. Opening Statements
  3. Testimony, Evidence, and Cross-Examination
  4. Closing Statements
  5. Instructions to the Jury
  6. Jury Deliberation and Verdict

Each is discussed in more detail below. 

1. Jury Selection

stages of a criminal case jury selection for trialTo select a jury, a group of people who have drawn jury duty for that day appear in the courtroom. The judge and the prosecuting and defense attorneys will question all the potential jurors. Here, the attorneys and the judge will make sure that no prospective juror has a conflict of interest or has a bias against any of the parties. Once the members of the jury and alternate jurors are selected, the next part of the trial can begin. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the jury pool and the profile of the case.

2. Opening Statements

The opening statements are the first parts of the trial. Both attorneys will present what they expect the evidence in the case to show. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, so he or she will start. Then, the defense attorney will explain what happened from the defendant’s point of view.

3. Testimony, Evidence, and Cross-Examination

This part of the trial is where the bulk of the court case will take place. Witnesses are called by both sides and give testimony by answering guided questions from the attorney. After a witness’s testimony is done, the opposing attorney has the ability to cross-examine the witness.stages of criminal case cross examinationThis is also the stage of the trial where any physical evidence such as letters, phone logs, etc, will be introduced. The prosecution will present its witness and evidence first, and then they ‘rest’ their case. Next, it is the defense’s turn. Once both sides have presented their cases, it is time for the closing arguments.

4. Closing Statements

As in the opening, a closing statement, also known as a closing argument, is prepared by the prosecution and the defense. Both attorneys will address the jury directly, as the closing arguments represent the last chance to influence how the jury rules. As in the whole trial, the prosecuting attorney will go first and then the defense attorney, followed by one last argument by the prosecutor. The prosecutor gets the last word because they have the burden of proof.

5. Jury Instructions

Once the closing arguments are complete, the judge will remind the jury of their job in the trial. He or she will tell the jury exactly what is at stake, as well as which legal statues they are examining. These instructions will vary, depending on the state and the type of case.

6. Jury Deliberation

Trial stages of a criminal case verdictOnce the instructions are complete, the case is given over to the jury. The jurors will then go to another room to discuss the case and the evidence presented. They will make sure to examine every facet of the case and then make a judgement about whether or not the defendant is guilty. This process can be very short or very long, depending on the type of case and the evidence presented. Once the jury has reached a decision, they notify the judge, who reads the verdict to the defendant and the court.

How can a good lawyer help me through my trial?

You don’t have to go through this process alone. A good criminal defense attorney will be at your side during the entire process. In the trial itself, a good attorney will make sure he or she has researched every witness and knows all the evidence that will be presented, so a good cross-examination can be prepared. Your lawyer will also listen closely to the testimony, so he or she can object (or formally protest) to what is being said.

Hiring a knowledgeable defense lawyer is the most important thing you can do to help yourself.   If you’ve been charged with a crime and think you may have to go to trial. 

Contact Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney Burges McCowan. Make sure to have a great criminal defense, so that your rights will always be protected.

Interested in learning more about the stages of a criminal case? Stay tuned for Stage 6: After Your Trial.