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Trial

State Bar Of California | California Board Of Legal Specialization California State Bar
Certified Criminal Law Specialist

If a case is neither settled nor dismissed it will eventually go to trial. The four parts of trial are:

Jury Selection

Jury selection, sometimes called Voir Dire (from old French) begins the trial. The judge will usually begin jury selection by asking members of the jury panel (the group of citizens from which the jury will be chosen) a series of basic background questions. After this each attorney is allowed to ask further questions in order to get to know members of the panel. After each side has finished asking questions the attorneys may ask the judge to remove certain jurors "for cause". A juror who said things that show that they are clearly biased must be removed by the judge for cause.

Next each side (the Defense Attorney and the District Attorney) are given a certain number of peremptory challenges (the exact number changes depending on circumstances). Peremptory challenges allow an attorney to excuse a juror without having to give a reason. Over time attorneys develop a knowledge of what kind of juror won't like them, their client, or their cause. As many of these jurors as possible should be eliminated.

Opening Statements

First the Prosecutor and then the defense attorney are allowed to give an opening statement to the jury. The opening statement is not evidence, and the jury will be told this. Still, the opening statement is vitally important in that it allows the attorneys to give the jury a "map" of what they will be shown, and place them in the right state of mind to ignore or dismiss the evidence the other side will be putting on.

NOTE: The prosecutor  must make an opening statement to begin the trial. Defense attorneys, on the other hand, are allowed either to give their opening statement immediately after the prosecutor, or to wait until the prosecutor has finished putting on his case. The latter is usually done only if the defense attorney intends to call multiple witnesses.

Presentation of evidence

After the opening statements are completed the prosecution puts on whatever it has (that was not thrown out earlier). This evidence typically will be limited to calling witnesses to testify and showing them pictures, but may also include scientific evidence such as fingerprints, DNA printouts, narcotics tests, blood scans, ballistics reports, etc. Recorded evidence such as letters, audio tapes, and video are occasionally available. Physical evidence (usually a weapon, a stolen item, or an article of clothing) can also be presented.

Either side may present evidence, but typically, due to the nature of burden placed on the prosecution, the vast majority of evidence is put on by the prosecution and the defense attorneys' main goal is to challenge that evidence by cross-examining witnesses.

The defense attorney may call a witness if:
-The prosecution is relying on expert testimony and the defense attorney is able to find an opposing expert to contradict the prosecutions case.
-The defendant is sympathetic and does not have any significant criminal history that could be brought up on cross-examination. There is an alibi witness, or a witness who will identify someone else as having committed the crime. Occasionally character witnesses may be called to testify that the defendant is not the type of person who would have committed the charged crime.

Closing arguments

Once both sides have presented whatever evidence they have and "rested". The prosecutor, then the defense attorney, and then the prosecutor again, give closing statements. Closing statements are used to summarize the evidence presented and explain to the jury how the evidence either has, or has not, proven the elements (necessary parts) of the crime charged.

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