Criminal Trial Process Overview
Understand Your Criminal Defense Case
If you have been arrested for a crime, no doubt you may be curious about
what you will be facing. Despite the complexity of our country's legal
system, most criminal trials are conducted similarly. Our
Orange County criminal defense attorney explains how the trial is held and what each step of the process entails.
Understanding the criminal trial system not only prepares you for what
is to come, but can also help you get a better grasp of your own case
and the defense strategies that will be used to help protect your rights.
The steps of a criminal trial are:
- Selecting a jury
- Opening statements
- Witness testimonies and cross-examination
- Closing arguments
- Jury instruction
- Deliberation and verdict
Selecting a Jury
Except in rare cases, the first step of the trial process is selecting
jury members. The selection is conducted with the judge, the plaintiff's
attorney, and the defendant's attorney. They ask the potential jurors
a serious of questions pertaining to the case, including questions about
ideological opinions and life experiences.
A potential juror may not be selected for a couple of reasons:
- The judge excused the potential juror due to their answers
- The defense or prosecution may exclude an individual through use of "peremptory
challenges" and challenges "for cause"
If a potential jury member gives answers that seem biased or to favor a
certain side unfairly, the prosecution or defense may request that that
individual not be used in the trial. There are only a certain number of
jurors that may be excluded. Once both parties are content with the unbiased
jurors that have been selected, the trial may begin.
The trial begins with the prosecutor and the defense presenting beginning
arguments. Witnesses and evidence are usually not presented during this time.
The prosecutor, on behalf of the government, must prove that the defendant
is guilty. For this reason, often the prosecution's opening statement
is given first. The purpose of the opening statement for the prosecution
is to state the facts of the case and prove how and why the defendant
committed the crime.
The defense uses the opening statement to refute the prosecution's
facts and instill doubt that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
One major piece of evidence in a criminal trial is the witness testimony.
Both the prosecution and the defense can call upon witnesses to support
The witness testimony process is conducted as followed:
- The witness is sworn in after being called to the stand.
- The party that called the witness to the stand questions him or her. The
direct examination is used to extract information that supports the party's position.
- After the examination, the opposing party has a chance to cross-examine
the witness. They attempt to weaken the testimony by pointing out holes
and discredit the witness or account.
- When the cross-examination is completed, the original party has a chance
to re-direct examination. They can ask questions that will repair the
damage done to their case by the cross-examination.
Each side is given the opportunity to present and challenge evidence. When
neither side has any more evidence to present or refute, both sides "rest"
and the trial moves into closing arguments.
Very similar to opening statements, the prosecution and the defense are
able to provide statements that summarize the case and the evidence they
provided. It is the final chance for both parties to present statements
to convince the jury in their favor.
Deliberation and Verdict
During the final stage, the judge provides the jury with instruction and
they deliberate. The jury attempts to agree on whether or not the defendant
is guilty or not guilty. Depending on the case, the deliberation process
can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks.
In California, if the jury is unable to unanimously agree on a guilty or
not guilty verdict (this is also known as a "hung jury") a retrial
will occur with a different jury.
For more information about the criminal process,
contact The Law Offices of Jacqueline Goodman.