The next stage in the progression of a criminal or traffic case is a bench or a jury trial. If the matter is set for a bench trial, a judge will hear all of the evidence introduced during the trial and make a finding of guilty or not guilty. In a jury trial, 12 people from the community are selected by the prosecutor and the defense attorney to hear all of the evidence at trial. At the close of the evidence, the jury will retire to the jury room, elect a foreperson, and deliberate on the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The jury must come to a unanimous decision, meaning all jurors must agree with the finding of guilty or not guilty. If the jurors are unable to make a unanimous decision, the judge will declare a mistrial and set the matter down for a retrial.
At trial, it is the prosecution’s burden to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant has no burden to prove anything, including his innocence. He or she can sit there and not put on any evidence during the trial and rely on the prosecution’s inability to prove him or her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The trial will begin with opening statements by the attorneys where they will summarize what they believe the evidence will show. The prosecution then will get a chance to present witness and any relevant physical evidence in an attempt to prove their case. Once the prosecution rests their case, the defense attorney will make a motion for a directed finding. This motion essentially asks the judge to throw out the case for lack of evidence. If the judge grants this motion, the case is dismissed. If the judge denies the motion, the defense then has an opportunity to present any witnesses or relevant physical evidence in their case. The defendant may or may not choose to testify in his own behalf. After the defense rests their case, the prosecution is given the opportunity to present evidence to rebut the defense’s case. After both sides rest their case, both sides will get an opportunity to present closing arguments to the judge or jury.
After closing arguments, if it is a bench trial the judge will make a ruling of guilty or not guilty on the case. If a jury trial, the jurors will be given written instructions on the law, which are prepared by the attorneys. They will then retire to begin their deliberations.
If the defendant is found not guilty after the trial, the case is over. If the defendant is found guilty, the case will either proceed immediately to a sentencing hearing, or the case will be continued for a sentencing hearing after a pretrial investigation is done.
The next and final blog concerning the timeline of a criminal case will be the sentencing hearing.