Jury Trial or Court Trial
Every person accused of a crime is entitled to a jury trial. Really though, a trial is not only for the benefit of the accused. Do we as a society have an interest in fair trial procedures? When a person is falsely convicted of a crime they did not commit, we all suffer in many ways. And if there is a guilty party who did commit the crime, a false conviction of an innocent person makes it less likely the perpetrator of the crime will ever be held accountable.
A trial could be as fair as possible. Or, a trial could be conducted which has precious little fairness about it at all. To call a court proceeding a “trial” means nothing at all. To conduct a fair, trustworthy, reliable trial requires effort, and is worth the effort.
In a fair trial, the court and jury focus upon a fair process and ignore whatever effect choices serving fairness may have on the outcome.
The right of the accused to present his or her chosen defense is basic and fundamental to a fair trial. When a prosecutor or a judge prevents a defendant from presenting their defense or their evidence, a trial becomes a sham, a show, and a fraud upon justice.
The right to a jury trial means that the jury has a right to all the relevant evidence constitutionally obtained. This must include evidence viewed as relevant and material from the perspective of the defense. If a prosecutor or judge edits out, censors or gags the defense evidence, there is no real jury trial. It becomes just a sham show trial. When voice of the accused is silenced, the jury is only allowed to hear guilty evidence, the trial is unfair and unreliable.
Jury trials often begin with the lawyers discussing the scope of the evidence in the trial, motions in limine, with the judge who then rules on them. An outline of the trial evidence is discussed, along with witness and other scheduling issues. Jury trials usually last for days or weeks.
Jury selection follows. The defense lawyer and the prosecutor talk to the potential jury members with the judge observing. The lawyer may challenge a potential juror “for cause” (meaning for a reason). If so, the judge will decide whether to excuse that potential juror or not. After that process the lawyers may exercise their assigned number of peremptory challenges (no reason required, normally). A lawyer’s peremptory challenge may be subject to objection by the opposing attorney on constitutional grounds (for example, if the objecting lawyer suspects the peremptory challenge may have been made based on race or other prohibited criteria).
After the jury is sworn, the prosecuting attorney makes an Opening Statement to the jury. The defense lawyer may follow with an Opening Statement, or may reserve it for after the close of the prosecution evidence.
Next the prosecuting lawyer present their evidence, in an attempt to meet their burden of production (to survive a defense motion for acquittal at the close of the prosecution case); as well as their hope to carry their burden of persuading the jury that no doubt about guilt is possible (unless a crazy, unreasonable one).
After the close of the prosecution case, normally the defense will present its evidence if it chooses to present a defense case. The defense sometimes will not, since the burden of proof lays squarely upon the prosecuting attorney.
Closing arguments to the jury by both lawyers follow. After jury instructions on the law from the judge, the jury and bailiff will be sworn and the jury will deliberate.
During deliberation, the jury is in control. They can take whatever time they need. If they are unable to agree on a unanimous verdict, eventually the judge will declare a mistrial due to the hung jury. If the jury is able to agree on a unanimous verdict, the prosecution lawyer, defendant, defense lawyer, judge and jury will reconvene in the courtroom for the announcement of the verdict.
If the verdict is not-guilty, the defendant is released. If the verdict is guilty, the judge may order the defendant taken into custody or may order that the conditions of pretrial release continue until the sentencing hearing.
Though an accused person has the right to a jury trial, he or she may waive or give up that right and elect to have a trial to a judge only. The trial procedure is similar, without the parts relating to jury selection and deliberation.