A criminal trial is a mystery to most people. Criminal cases, like civil cases, settle more than 90 percent of the time, so even people who have had one or more criminal charges may never have seen a criminal trial. Criminal trials proceed in a certain order, as discussed below.
Selecting a Jury
The first matter of business in a criminal trial is selecting a jury. This process involves questioning the potential jurors, looking for areas of concern, such as potential bias. If, for example, someone is related to one of the witnesses, they may be excused for cause. Similarly, if someone would believe a police officer over another witness, solely because they were a police officer, this might be a basis to dismiss a potential juror. Once the jury has been questioned, the lawyers have the opportunity to strike a certain number of jurors. Then the judge swears in the remaining people as the jury for the case.
When lawyers give opening statements, they are not testifying. Instead, they are providing a roadmap of what they believe the testimony will show. They may talk about what a witness is expected to say, or evidence they anticipate will come in through pictures. They also tell the jury the conclusion they expect the jury to come to at the end of the trial.
The State's Case
The state, having the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, begins by presenting their witnesses first. The state brings in witnesses who they believe can provide evidence to support the charges.
The Defendant's Case
The defense elicits testimony of the state's witnesses during the state's case and is also entitled to call witnesses of their own. While the defendant has the option of testifying, they cannot be forced to testify. If they choose to remain silent, that is their right under the Rhode Island and United States Constitutions.
Testimony includes direct and cross-examination. Then there may be a “re-direct” followed by a “re-cross.” The attorneys can continue to go back and forth until all of their questions are answered.
Whichever attorney calls the witness begins by asking questions of the witness. This is called “direct examination.”
Once the attorney is through asking all the questions they have of a witness, the other side gets to do “cross-examination.” The answers provided on cross-examination are considered just as much testimony as the answers provided in response to direct examination
While the opening statement tells the jury what the lawyers think will be presented to them, a closing argument is the lawyer's opportunity to review the evidence that was actually presented in trial. Lawyers are permitted to make arguments in closing arguments, about the significance of the evidence and the logical conclusions that may be drawn.
The judge provides the jury with instructions on how to proceed, the burden of proof, and the elements of the crimes alleged. Then the jury retires to deliberate.
Jury Deliberation and Verdict
The jury retires to the jury room. Their first job is to pick a foreperson. Next, they review the evidence and come to a conclusion about whether or not the state proved their case. Once they have a unanimous verdict, they return to the court and render their verdict publicly.
Kensley R. Barrett got his start in criminal defense by working in the Rhode Island Public Defender's Office, which is one of the best training grounds for criminal defense lawyers. Now, Kensley R. Barrett works as a private criminal defense attorney in Rhode Island. Experience matters. Contact the Law Offices of Kensley R. Barrett, Esq., today to talk about your case. We offer free consultations. Criminal charges come with serious consequences. Understand what you are facing. Call us today.