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What is it, why and when does it take place?
When someone is charged with a crime and arraigned, District Attorney’s Office (or United States Attorney’s Office, if it is a federal case) will begin investigating the case. Following several court appearances, the discovery process, motion practice, plea negotiations with a Defense Attorney, the DA’s office will make a certain plea offer (although not in all cases) to the defendant’s attorney. If and when the offer is final, or a defendant is not willing to take the deal as offered by the prosecution, then the case is set for trial (JURY OR BENCH).
It usually takes at least 1 year from the date of the offense until the case is set for trial unless the defendant is incarcerated. The trial is a risky proceeding because its outcome is not guaranteed; defendants can be acquitted on all or some counts or can be convicted on all or some counts. It takes a lot of preparation, case assessment, and strategy development to make a decision as to whether a particular client is better off going to trial. Prior trial experience of a criminal defense attorney is a must if a client wants to increase his/her chances of success at trial.
Attorneys at Sharifov & Associates, PLLC have such crucial experience and fight vigorously for our clients’ acquittals.
Jury Trial Structure
After the matter has been set for trial, the Court will first start with Preliminaries. The issues typically discussed are: what prior convictions, if any, an ADA will be allowed to cross-examine on, if the defendant testifies; any advance objections to some evidence to be introduced at trial (motions in limine). The parties also exchange some final discoveries (some of it discoverable right before the trial or even once the jury is picked). Then potential jurors, who wait outside of the courtroom, will be invited in. Usually, there will be anywhere between 50 and 200 potential jurors; they will be seated and then questioned first by the judge and then by the attorneys on both sides to decide who should serve as a juror. The process of selecting jurors may take anywhere between 1 and 3 days depending on the severity of the case and charges. In complex federal or state cases it may take much longer. Attorneys for both sides may exercise various challenges to remove a certain juror. If you need more detailed information on jury selection advice, please contact Sharifov & Associates, PLLC for a free consultation.
After the jury is selected and sworn, Prosecuting Attorney (ADA or AUSA) makes his opening statement. It is an outline of how the prosecution intends to prove the case and factual scenario as to how the defendant committed the crime alleged in the accusatory instrument. The Defense Attorney does his opening statement after that. Then prosecution begins its direct case by offering witnesses and evidence. The defense attorney then cross-examines these witnesses. After the prosecution rests, Defense Attorney should make motions to dismiss if the Prosecutor failed to prove certain elements of the crime charged. The court may issue its decision right away or reserve it until the jury’s verdict. After that Defense Attorney may introduce their witnesses and evidence.
After all evidence is presented by both sides, both Attorneys make their closing statements. The closing statement is a summary of what was introduced at trial, what testimony, what evidence, what witnesses said, etc. Attorneys for both sides remind jurors of what important points were presented and how the jury should view certain evidence. At the end of the case, the prosecution asks the jury to come back with a “guilty” verdict on all counts. Defense Attorney asks to acquit their client on all counts.
Because it is the prosecution who has the burden to prove the guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor makes his/her closing statement last.
After the closing arguments, the court gives the jury instructions, and explains what exactly their job is. The jury then retires for deliberation. During deliberations, the jury may have questions or request to hear certain portions of testimony. After they reach a verdict, it is announced in court.
It is worth noting that to adequately prepare for a criminal trial a Defense Attorney has to spend a considerable amount of time. It is important to work out a winning defense strategy, to properly select jurors, make a strong opening statement, anticipate and prepare for cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, to determine what witnesses will testify for defense (if any), prepare such witnesses for testimony. Equally important is to conduct legal research to support motions during the trial; know what evidence should not be admissible during the trial, what objections to make, know the grounds for these objections, know how to introduce exhibits, know what foundation is required to do so, have case law needed to support position on a certain issue at trial. It is always difficult to predict how long the trial will last, however, on average, a misdemeanor jury trial may take anywhere between 3 days and 1 week, a felony trial - between 5 days and 3 weeks. If there are co-defendants who are being tried jointly, it may take longer than that.
If you have an open criminal case that may go to trial and your current attorney does not do trials or does not have enough experience to conduct it, please contact Attorneys at Sharifov & Associates, PLLC, for a free consultation regarding your issue. Sharifov & Associates, PLLC, are trial Attorneys and have experience and expertise to take a case, no matter how complex, to trial.