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Understanding the Criminal Trial Process

A Guide to the Standard Procedures of a Criminal Trial

At Jackson Law, we find it important to demystify the criminal justice process for our clients. The intricacies of a criminal trial have been shaped by centuries of legal practice. America’s common law tradition has unified the criminal procedure code across federal and state courts. Here is an overview of the typical stages in a criminal trial, provided your case goes to completion:

Choosing the Trial Type: The defendant has the option to be tried either by a judge or a jury. The prosecution does not have the authority to insist on a jury trial.

Jury Selection: In the event of a jury trial, both the defense and the prosecution participate in selecting the jury, a process known as “voir dire,” which involves a series of questions designed to ensure impartiality.

Pre-Trial Motions: Both sides may file motions “in limine” to request that certain evidence be admitted or excluded before the trial begins.

Opening Arguments: The prosecution and defense present their opening statements, outlining their anticipated arguments and setting the stage for the evidence they plan to present.

The Prosecution’s Case: The prosecutor introduces the case by directly examining witnesses.

Defense’s Cross-Examination: The defense has the opportunity to question the prosecution’s witnesses.

Redirect Examination: The prosecution may further question their witnesses following cross-examination.

The Prosecution Rests: The prosecutor concludes the presentation of their case.

Defense’s Motion to Dismiss: The defense can request a dismissal of charges if it believes the prosecution’s evidence is insufficient to convict.

Judge’s Decision on the Motion to Dismiss: This defense motion is typically denied by the judge.

The Defense’s Case: The defense presents its central arguments through direct examination of its witnesses.

Prosecutor’s Cross-Examination: The prosecution cross-examines the defense witnesses.

Redirect Examination: The defense may conduct a re-examination of its witnesses.

The Defense Rests: The defense completes the presentation of its case.

Prosecutor’s Rebuttal: The prosecutor introduces evidence to counter the defense’s case.

Jury Instruction Discussion: The defense, prosecution, and judge collaborate to finalize the instructions to be given to the jury.

Closing Arguments: Both sides summarize their evidence and arguments, and suggest the verdict the jury ought to reach.

Jury Deliberation Instructions: The jury receives guidelines on the legal standards to apply to their deliberations.

Jury Deliberation: The jury discusses the case to reach a decision, which typically requires unanimity, except in Oregon and Louisiana where non-unanimous verdicts are permitted.

Post-Trial Motions: If the jury renders a guilty verdict, the defense may appeal for a new trial or an acquittal.

Judge’s Decision on Post-Trial Motions: Typically, the judge denies these motions.

Sentencing: Following a guilty verdict, the defendant is either sentenced immediately or at a subsequent hearing.

Knowing the steps of a criminal trial is crucial to navigating the legal system. Should you find yourself in need of guidance or representation, Jackson Law is here to provide experienced legal support. Contact us at 650-587-8556 for assistance.

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