A trial is when two or more parties present information and evidence to a court of justice. A civil case is held to settle lawsuits or claims against a person or party. A plaintiff is the person or party who brings the case against the defendant to the court. The defendant is a person or party that is being accused or sued of a crime. Civil trials are non-criminal lawsuits and generally involve property or damages caused by the defendant.
A criminal case is a case brought against a person or group by the government. The defendant in a criminal case is being accused of committing a crime. A crime is an illegal action that is committed by a person or group. Two types of crimes that can be committed are felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are more serious crimes than misdemeanors.
The prosecutor or prosecuting attorney is the attorney who is representing the government and brings a case against the defendant. Generally, a defendant hires a defense attorney. A defense attorney is an attorney that specializes in defending parties in a criminal matter. If a defendant chooses not to hire a defense attorney and they represent themselves, this is called a pro se.
In a trial, a judge is always present. A judge is someone who is appointed by the court of law to listen to a case and make rulings on issues that come up during the trial. In some cases, the judge will decide the verdict of the case. A trial without a jury and ruled on solely by a judge is called a bench trial. A verdict is a decision or judgment in a civil or criminal case made by a judge or a jury. A verdict can be either guilty or not guilty. A guilty verdict means that the defendant was found guilty of the crimes they were accused of. A not guilty verdict means the defendant was found not guilty of committing the crimes they were accused of. A conviction is a declaration that someone is guilty of a crime after a guilty verdict is returned by the jury or judge in court.
A jury is not present in all cases. They are made up of people in the general population. Their role is to listen to the case and consider all the evidence that is presented by both parties in an unbiased way. The jury is then in charge of discussing the case among themselves and coming up with a guilty or not guilty verdict. In criminal trials, a jury consists of twelve jurors, and the jurors are selected at random. The process of choosing a jury is called voir dire or jury selection process. During the jury selection process, many potential jurors are brought in and both attorneys and the judge are present. The judge and attorneys ask the potential jurors questions in order to select a jury for the trial.
The steps that occur before a trial are as follows
- Someone or a party is investigated and accused of committing a crime.
- The prosecution seeks an indictment. An indictment is formally accusing and charging someone for a crime. This means the person will be brought to trial. At this stage, the government will ask for an arrest warrant from the judge and arrest the suspect. An arrest warrant is an order from the court that there was enough evidence against the suspect to arrest them for a crime committed.
- The defendant may be placed in jail and a bail set for their release. Bail is an amount of money that is paid on behalf of the defendant to the court to release them from jail.
- Next, the defendant will appear in front of the judge and plea guilty or not guilty for the crime. A plea is given by a defendant whether they are guilty or not guilty for the crime they have been accused of committing. This is also called an arraignment. In criminal cases, the prosecutor and defense attorney may work together to agree on terms if the defendant pleads guilty to the crime. The defendant will usually get a shorter sentence. This is called a plea bargain and this process does not include the judge.
- If the defendant pleads not guilty, both attorneys will prepare for trial. While preparing for trial, both sides may create briefs. A brief is a legal document that summarizes the facts and arguments of a case. Briefs are submitted to the court by lawyers.
What Happens In The Court Room
Trials can be a lengthy process. A criminal trial will begin with opening statements from both the prosecutor and defense attorney. Opening statements are statements that are presented out loud to the judge and jury. These statements give the jury an overview of what each side is going to present during the trial. The prosecution always goes first because they are the side that’s accusing someone and bringing the case to the court.
After the opening statements, both sides will present evidence that the accused is either guilty or not guilty of the crime they are being accused of committing. Evidence is documents obtained by both sides and testimonies from witnesses to the crime that is presented to the judge and jury. The evidence will prove whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. A witness is someone that has personal knowledge of the crime or saw the crime being committed. Witnesses will testify to the court under oath. Both the prosecutor and defense have an opportunity to examine and question witnesses. The prosecution will go first in presenting their evidence and questioning witnesses. After the prosecutor questions a witness, the defense has an opportunity to cross-examine a witness. Once the prosecutor has presented all their evidence and witness testimony, they will rest their case.
The defense then has the opportunity to present their evidence and witnesses. The prosecutors will also have the opportunity to cross-examine the defense’s witnesses. An objection may be called by either attorney when they feel the other attorney is not following the rules. The judge then has the power to agree with objection and make the attorney withdraw what they said or overrule the objection by allowing the attorney to continue.
After both sides have plead their case, they move onto closing arguments. Closing arguments are the final portion of the trial for both sides. Both attorneys will summarize what they presented in court and why the defendant is either guilty or not guilty. After the closing arguments, the judge will give the jury their final instructions. The jury will then meet in private and decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty to all the crimes they have been accused of. This could take hours or weeks.
Once the jury has agreed on a unanimous verdict, everyone is called back into the courtroom where the verdict is announced. If the defendant is found not guilty, they are free. If they are found guilty, they will be punished by the judge at a later date. That part of the trial is called sentencing.
Sentencing is a hearing that occurs after the verdict has been decided where the defendant will learn what their punishment will be. If the defense thinks the trial was not fair, they are allowed to ask for an appeal. An appeal is when you take a case that has already been decided on in court and take it to a higher-level court for review.