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Helpful information for defendants: 6 phases of a criminal trial

Deciding that you are going to go through a jury trial to resolve your criminal matter is a big step. You must be sure you are prepared. One way to do this is by gaining a bit of understanding about trials in general. Once you have this information, you can talk to your defense attorney about specific questions you have about your case.

There are six phases that defendants encounter during a criminal trial. Here's an overview of what you should expect during each.

Jury selection: The defense attorney and the prosecutor sort through the jury pool to find jurors to sit on the panel for the case. There are also alternate jurors chosen during this process. Either side can challenge potential jurors. There are many reasons for each side to exclude jurors, so this must be considered carefully because some exclusions are only available for them to use a certain number of times. The goal is to have a jury that represents a cross section of the community and that is unbiased.

Both opening statements: Each side will give an opening statement that provides a summary of its position. There is no evidence presented during this phase of the trial. Typically, the prosecutor will give their statement first and then the defense will follow.

Testimony and cross examinations: This is the main phase of the trial. Both sides can call witnesses to the stand and present evidence. The other side can then come to cross examine what is presented. Generally, the goal of the defense is to poke holes in what the prosecution is claiming so that there is reasonable doubt about the claims being made against the defendant.

Closing arguments: Each side sums up their case and reviews evidence and testimony that backs up their claims. This is the final chance for both sides to remind the jury of what they feel they have shown. It is also the last opportunity that the defense has to discuss why there is reasonable doubt regarding the prosecutor's claims.

Instructions to the jury: The judge addresses the jury during this phase of the trial. They are given the legal information necessary to decide the case. This can include the legal definitions of the charges, as well as any other concepts that apply to the case. Most of the time, what constitutes reasonable doubt is covered.

Deliberation and reading of the verdict by the jury: The jury members will go into a room where they can discuss the case without anyone else being present. They can ask to review evidence and get answers to questions about legal definitions. The process can take as little as a few minutes or as long as many weeks. Once there is a verdict, the jury returns to open court where it is announced. If they can't reach a verdict, there may be a mistrial declared, which means the case can either go through another trial or be dismissed.

A jury trial is a serious matter. Any defendant considering this option for resolving their case should ensure they are prepared for what's involved.

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