A criminal trial is a search for the truth. It proceeds through the examination of evidence (which includes the statements of witnesses) in a courtroom before a judge or a jury to determine whether a defendant is guilty of the charges in the Information beyond a reasonable doubt.
Voir Dire is the name given to jury selection. Twelve jurors and several alternates are chosen to hear a criminal case. When prospective jurors are summoned to the courtroom, the judge will explain certain principles of law and question the prospective jurors. The DDA and the defense attorney will also ask questions and “explore for bias.” After questioning, each side may exercise a limited number of “peremptory challenges” to excuse jurors they don’t want. The process continues until the 12 jurors and two or more alternates are chosen and sworn.
The Parts of a Trial
Opening Statement: At the beginning of the trial, the DDA makes an Opening Statement that outlines the prosecution’s case against the defendant. A defense attorney may elect to make an Opening Statement as well, but it is not required. No argument is permitted.
Case In Chief: The case brought by the District Attorney’s Office generally involves calling witnesses and introducing other evidence. The DDA questions each witness. Afterwards, the defense attorney may question or cross-examine the witness. The DDA can follow up with more questions on redirect. This process continues until all of the prosecution’s witnesses in the case have testified. At the end of the prosecution’s case, the defendant may ask the judge to dismiss the charges - a request that on the theory that the trial evidence is insufficient to establish the crime(s) charged.
Defense Case: The defendant is not required to testify, to present any witnesses, or to present any evidence. If defense witnesses are called, the DDA may cross-examine each witness.
Rebuttal: The District Attorney’s Office may present witnesses or evidence to rebut information presented by the defense.
Concluding Argument: The DDA delivers a summation, at which time the evidence is reviewed and arguments supporting a guilty verdict are offered. The defense presents its closing argument after the prosecution. The DDA is allowed time for rebuttal after the defense’s arguments. At the conclusion of closing arguments the judge gives final instructions on the law and explains the elements of each crime charged.
Deliberation: The jury may find the defendant guilty, not guilty, or may be unable to agree on a verdict (hung). If the jury cannot come to a verdict, with the court’s approval, the case may be tried again