Understanding Your Criminal Case - What To Expect in a Criminal Trial
April 12th, 2023
After a suspect is arrested, the court will schedule the arraignment and other pre-trial hearings. During these hearings, your lawyer will try to negotiate a favorable plea bargain or even outright dismissal of your case. If the prosecutor is unwilling to resolve your case, it will be scheduled for trial.
A trial is an adversarial proceeding in which the prosecutor presents evidence to try to prove a defendant guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is not required to present any evidence, but can challenge the accuracy or sufficiency of the prosecutor’s evidence.
The days and weeks leading up to a trial are stressful. You will meet with your lawyer to review the case and discuss your trial strategy and what to expect.
By the time your trial date arrives, we will have had multiple meetings with the judge and the prosecutor, and everyone involved will understand the details of your case.
Meeting with the Judge
On the day of the trial, we will meet at the courthouse. We will go to the judge’s courtroom, and I will meet with the judge and the prosecutor in chambers for one last discussion to try to resolve your case. We will also address the logistics of the trial, such as how many witnesses each side will call and how long the trial is expected to take. The judge will rule on any outstanding evidentiary issues, such as whether certain evidence will be excluded from the criminal case trial.
Jury Selection (Voir Dire)
The trial begins when the judge invites the potential jurors into the courtroom. In a jury trial, the judge and jury have separate functions. The judge oversees the conduct of the trial and makes rulings on the law, such as whether the prosecutor has met the burden of proof and whether certain evidence can be considered. The jury evaluates the evidence to decide whether it is credible and whether to convict the defendant.
When the jurors enter the courtroom, the judge will offer introductory remarks, ask the jurors basic questions to confirm they are able to serve, and provide an overview of how the trial will proceed.
Then the lawyers begin voir dire. During voir dire, the lawyers question the jurors and can excuse a juror. A lawyer can excuse a juror for cause if the juror is biased and cannot fairly evaluate the evidence. The lawyers can also use a peremptory challenge to excuse a juror if they think the juror is not suitable for this particular case. Both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer have a limited number of peremptory challenges, which will vary based on the type of case and the number of defendants.
After the lawyers are satisfied with the jury, they make their opening statements. The opening statement is a short, plain statement about what they expect the evidence to show. The opening statement is our opportunity to present the jury with our theory of the case and outline why we think the defendant is not guilty.
In a criminal trial, the defense’s opening statements often focus on the sufficiency of the evidence and the burden of proof. I remind the jury that the prosecutor has a high burden and point out the shortcomings in the evidence.
After opening statements, the prosecutor calls their first witness. During direct examination, the prosecutor asks questions to bring out testimony and other evidence to establish the elements of the crime. When the prosecutor has finished asking questions, I will cross-examine the witness.
When a party calls a witness, their lawyer cannot ask leading questions. But on cross-examination, the lawyer can ask leading questions that suggest an answer or require a simple yes or no in response. During cross-examination, I will ask questions to identify problems with the prosecutor’s theory of the case and create reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant committed the crime.
The prosecutor will continue to call witnesses and I will continue to cross-examine witnesses until the prosecution rests, which means they have finished their presentation of evidence and believe they have met their burden of proof.
When the prosecutor is finished, the defendant presents their case-in-chief.
The defendant does not have to prove anything and often presents less evidence than the prosecutor. When the defense calls a witness, I must ask open-ended questions, while the prosecution can ask leading questions on cross-examination.
When the defendant has finished their case-in-chief, the prosecution can call rebuttal witnesses to refute any information the defendant presented. Once again, the prosecution can call and question witnesses, and the defense lawyer can cross-examine the witnesses.
When the prosecution has finished with its rebuttal witnesses, the prosecution rests again.
Once the prosecution and defense have rested, the case moves to closing arguments. Each side will summarize the evidence and ask the jury to make a conclusion. As a criminal defense lawyer, my closing arguments generally emphasize what the prosecution needed to prove and how they fell short. Then I ask the jury to enter a Not Guilty verdict.
When closing arguments are finished, the judge offers final instructions and the case goes to the jury, which deliberates until they reach a verdict.
Elmen Legal: Aggressive Criminal Defense in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Going to trial can be a complicated, stressful, and uncertain process. But sometimes, it is the only way to ensure that justice is done.
If you are under investigation or have been charged with a crime in Michigan, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. Elmen Legal is based in Ann Arbor and proudly serves people throughout Michigan, including Saline, Pittsfield Township, Chelsea, and Ypsilanti, as well as Washtenaw, Wayne, Monroe, Lenawee, Hillsdale, Jackson, Ingham, Livingston, and Oakland Counties.
Categories: Criminal Defense Attorneys