At a criminal trial, the jury examines evidence to determine whether the State can prove the charges against the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Jury Selection: Jurors are selected during a process called “Voir Dire,” wherein prosecutors and defense attorneys ask questions to potential jurors to determine whether they can be fair and impartial and listen to the facts presented and apply the law. In misdemeanor cases, a Defendant will have a jury of six (6) deciding their case. In a felony case, a Defendant will have a jury of twelve (12). Jury selection can be a tedious process but it is arguably the most crucial stage of the trial. This is because attorneys, in a short amount of time, have to figure out who the jurors really are and which ones would be good for the defense. Why? In preparation for jury selection, Rachel spends a great deal of time considering the precise questions to ask potential jurors in an effort to secure the best jury possible to hear the case impartially.
Opening Statements: this is when the prosecutor (who goes first) and the defense attorney stand before the impaneled jury and give them a roadmap for what to expect (in the evidence, in the law, and procedurally).
Direct Examination of State’s Witnesses: this is when the State puts on their witnesses and introduces evidence against the Defendant.
Cross Examination of State’s Witnesses: this is when the defense has the opportunity to ask questions of State’s witnesses and “impeach” them using prior convictions, prior statements, and other evidence to call into question their testimony on Direct Examination as well as their character for truthfulness.
Direct Examination of Defense Witnesses: although the Defense does not have the burden of proof and therefore, does not need to call witnesses, the Defense can call witnesses, including experts, investigators, and and the defendant, himself, to testify. The Defense can also introduce evidence at this time.
Cross Examination of Defense Witnesses: Just like the Defense had the opportunity to cross-examine State’s witnesses, the State has the opportunity to cross-examine Defense witnesses.
Closing Arguments: this is when the State (who goes first and can reserve time to go after the Defense) and the Defense argue their cases to the jury. Attorneys are given wide latitude to creatively advocate on behalf of their position before jury deliberations. It is usually the most animated stage of the trial and it is the last time the parties will be able to address the jury before they deliberate.
Jury Instructions: During the trial, the judge will often have a charging conference with the State and the Defense, outside the presence of the jury. At that time, the parties will discuss proposed jury instructions and make objections to instructions on the record. Then, the judge will compile his final instructions and read them to the impaneled jury before the return to the jury room for deliberation. Jury instructions are, for example, definitions of crimes, legal standards, types of evidence, etc. This usually takes thirty minutes to an hour.
Deliberation: this is when the jury deliberates and attempts to reach a unanimous verdict. Jury deliberation is a completely private process, which is why attorneys often say that juries are unpredictable. There is absolutely no way to know what or who influenced their verdict unless jurors are willing to discuss their experience with attorneys after the trial. If jurors have a question for the court during deliberations, they can send written messages to the Judge and often receive prompt answers. There is no time limit on deliberations but judges will often call it is a “mistrial” after it becomes clear that no unanimous verdict can be reached. By contrast, if there is a unanimous verdict, the jurors sign the verdict form, notify the Court of their verdict, and the verdict is thereafter read in open court.
Verdict: In order to reach a verdict in a criminal case, the jury must unanimously agree on whether the Defendant is “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”. This means that all jurors must agree one way or the other for a verdict to be reached. If a verdict is reached, the judge will have the foreperson read the verdict in open court—guilty or not guilty (on each count). If the verdict is guilty, judges will conduct a sentencing hearing directly after or within a few weeks of the verdict. If a jury is unable to reach a verdict (i.e., one or more of the jurors disagrees with the majority vote), a judge will often instruct jurors to continue deliberating and try again. Ultimately, when no verdict can be reached and the jurors have exhausted all efforts to deliberate, a judge can declare the jury “hung” and grant a mistrial. A mistrial permits the retrial of the individual on the charges.
Sentencing; After a guilty verdict, the court will set a sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, both parties (the State and the defendant) have the opportunity to address the court with evidence in support of their position. For the defense, this often means presenting mitigation evidence like testimony from community members, teachers, and family about the defendant’s good character and potential for rehabilitation. In practice, Judges often punish more harshly after trial, reasoning that the defendant did not take responsibility for his actions and wasted the courts time. However, according to Uniform Superior Court Rule 33.6, “Judges should not impose upon a defendant any sentence in excess of that which would be justified to any of the rehabilitative, protective, deterrent or other purposes of the criminal law merely because they defendant has chosen the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt at trial rather than to enter a plea of guilty or nolo contendere.”
Prior to making a decision about how to resolve a criminal case, it is important to understand all resolution options with legal counsel. At Rachel Kaufman Law, we do a risk assessment with each client to ensure that they are informed of the pros and cons of each potential outcome and have reasonable expectations going forward.