Facing criminal charges is never a small thing, and the complexity and size of the criminal justice system easily overwhelms most defendants. Criminal defense attorneys are there to both protect the defendant’s rights and to steer him/her through the justice system with minimal delay. When people think about a criminal case, the first thing that comes to mind is typically the trial. The trial is the climax of the criminal case where the judge and jury decide if the person is guilty or not. The depictions of criminal trials on television are ubiquitous and usually depicted as very dramatic events that always include the proverbial smoking gun. While such trials do happen, most are very structured with few surprises. Given that the stakes are a person’s liberty, understanding what to expect during a trial will help anyone facing criminal charges prepare for this stressful event. An overview of the components of a typical criminal trial will follow below.
All defendants facing charges that could result in jail or prison time have the right to a trial by jury. While it is possible for a judge to decide a person’s guilt, a jury is typically the preferred method because it allows the defendant to have his/her peers determine the outcome. In addition, the defendant has the right to remain silent, which means he/she cannot be forced to testify. Finally, the accused is always presumed innocent until convicted, and the prosecutor is obligated to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jury selection is the initial step in the trial process, and is a very important component because these are the individuals that will decide the defendant’s fate. The attorneys pick jurors through a questioning procedure called voir dire, which continues until both sides agree on 12 jurors. The purpose of the questioning is to weed out individuals harboring biases that could influence how they decide the case. Thus, both attorneys have the ability to dismiss jurors as long as the rejection of someone is not based on that person’s sex, religion, race, ethnicity and the like.
Opening statements are the first part of a live trial, during which the state and the defense have an opportunity to explain to the jury what they intend to prove. Evidence cannot be introduced, but the attorneys can give jurors an overview of the type of information that will be discussed.
The heart of a case rests on the evidence, which is shown to the jury through witness testimony, photos, documents and other relevant and informative items. Both sides have the right to question a witness, but the witness is only permitted to testify about things he/she personally knows. Thus, information learned from a third party cannot be presented.
Once all the evidence is presented, both lawyers offer closing arguments. These arguments involve a review of the evidence, but cannot refer to new information, and are presented to persuade the jury that a particular side’s view of the evidence is correct.
After closing arguments, the jury is sent off to deliberate and decide if the defendant is guilty or not. The jury cannot consider evidence that was not officially accepted by the judge, and the decision must be unanimous. If there is disagreement with just one juror, a verdict cannot be rendered, and a “hung jury” is declared. If this occurs, a mistrial is usually announced, which requires a completely new trial. The prosecution may also opt to take a plea bargain on lesser charges or dismiss the case.
Finally, if the defendant is found guilty, a sentencing hearing will be held where both attorneys try to convince a judge what sentence to apply. The judge makes the ultimate decision on the punishment a defendant receives, which is set by sentencing guidelines in California law. The severity is based on any mitigating or aggravating factors that may be present.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Being charged with a crime can forever change your life, but a criminal defense attorney is there is make sure the impact is as minimal as possible. The Manshoory Law Group, APC represents individuals throughout California charged with crimes in both State and federal court. They understand how overwhelming the criminal process can be and will fight to get you the best possible result. Attorneys are available 24/7, so contact us today for a free consultation.