You have rejected the prosecutions plea offer, plead not guilty and it is your day in court. The day of trial, excitement, freight, the unknown and always the unexpected. What happens during a jury trial? Jury trials require preparation, skill, a little luck and stamina. Your attorney must be prepared for the unexpected. The day of trial is never the same twice. Weird things happen during trial and when you are prepared for trial anything can happen.
The morning of trial, the Judge asks the parties if they are ready for trial. When both sides announce ready, the clerk calls for a jury. Then the waiting begins. Picking a jury is often called “voir dire” or to tell the truth. The process of picking a jury is important as these are the people who are going to decide the facts of the case. Sometimes potential jurors fill out a questionnaire and the clerk brings up the questionnaire before the jurors are brought into the courtroom. The parties review the questionnaires. Once the 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 Jurors in the jury box are further questioned by the Judge, then by the prosecutor and then finally by the Defense attorney. During the initial questioning by the parties, each side can request that a juror be removed for cause. For cause removal is based on statutory requirements of the fact that the juror is not fit to be a juror. Once the panel is “passed for cause” meaning all the jurors are fit to be jurors, each side is allowed the strike a set number of jurors for no reason at all and finally a jury is formed. The jurors are sworn to promise to follow the rules of being a juror and finally the case is set to begin. But first the jurors are allowed to take a break. After the break, opening statements!
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. 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. 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, the defense often doesn’t present a case. If the Defense does present a case, it does so by presenting evidence through witnesses, experts, the defendant if he/she chooses to testify. Once the defense is finished presenting its case, the prosecution may present testimony to rebut what the defense. Once that is complete, the evidence is finished.
After each side has presented evidence, the parties discuss jury instructions. The jury instructions are the law the jurors must follow when examining the evidence. After the Judge has decided what jury instructions are to be given to the jury, it is time for closing arguments. Before the closing arguments, the jurors are read the jury instructions. 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 closing arguments, the jury is taken to the jury room for deliberations. Once they reach a verdict, they notify the bailiff. The bailiff calls the parties into the courtroom and the jury gives the verdict to the Judge who reads the jury verdict.
Jury trials are complex. Jury trials are nothing like portrayed on television. There is a lot of down time when nothing is happening. 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 important because of the unexpected that happens during a jury trial. Unexpected, like witnesses that don’t show up, that change their testimony, judicial rulings that affect your case, unexpected testimony and legal issues that always pop up during trial.