What Are Criminal Trials Really Like?

You’ve likely seen countless trials on TV, with exciting things like witnesses being hauled out of the court. While these dramas can grab your attention, they are not quite representative of what you can expect in a Washington court if you’re charged with a crime. While your defense law firm team will fill you in on the details of a trial if you are facing one, here are some things you can expect to see.

The Jury Selection

During jury selection, your attorney and the state prosecutor pick the members of the jury. Each attorney has a time limit to ask the jurors some questions that helps them decide who they want on the jury. These questions can be targeted at specific jurors or more open-ended, and they usually hint to the case’s theme or are aimed to highlight biases jurors might have or misconceptions they have about the criminal justice system. Both attorneys have a number of “challenges” they can use to remove a potential juror from the panel. The “Peremptory Challenges” may be used for any reason as long as it is related to the attorney’s view of the case’s outcome (but importantly cannot be based solely on the race of the potential juror), while “Challenges for Cause” are used when the attorney has reason to believe that a juror has a particular prejudice, bias, or prior case knowledge.

The Opening Phase

In the opening, both the state prosecutor and your attorney from a defense law firm have the opportunity to present their side of the story to the jurors who will decide the case’s outcome. Here, each attorney explains the evidence they expect the jury will hear, and the jurors will get an intro to the case and a summary about any witnesses involved.

Time for Testimony

First, the prosecutor has the opportunity to present their case. They call their witnesses, and your defense attorney will have the chance to cross-examine those witnesses. A cross-examination is a formal interrogation of witnesses who were called by the other side of the case to expand or challenge what that person said.

Contrary to what most people think, the defense attorney does not have to explain their side of the story next. This is because the prosecutor has the burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt. If a defense attorney decides to show evidence and call witnesses, the prosecutor will have the chance to cross-examine those witnesses, too.

A defendant is not required to testify in their own case. If you are not sure whether or not you should testify, speak to your attorney for advice. Your testimony could help or hurt your case, depending on all of the factors and circumstances involved.

Instructions to the Jury

Often considered a “boring” part of the trial, the judge has to read the instructions to the jury and provide them to the jurors after the closing arguments. These are the guidelines and laws the jury is required to follow when deciding whether you are guilty or not guilty of the crime you were charged with.

Closing Statements Come Next

A closing statement is a speech given by the prosecutor and then the defense attorney that summarizes all that was presented at court, such as evidence and witness testimony. Here, the puzzle pieces of the case are meant to be connected as each side argues their position.

Finally, the Verdict

When the trial ends, the jury has to go to a separate room and “deliberate,” which means they will talk about the case and decide the outcome. Once they decide, they are brought back before the people in court to tell them what was decided–the defendant is guilty or not guilty, or that they could not reach a decision (commonly known as “hung jury”).

A trial is more complex and often contains fewer bells and whistles than TV dramas make them out to have. That’s why, if you have been charged with a crime, it’s important to reach out to an experienced attorney. A criminal conviction can mean jail time, fines, and have other long-lasting effects on your life, both now and in the future. Having legal help on your side throughout the process is essential.

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