If you’re facing a DUI or another criminal charge, it’s important to understand the steps that a jury trial entails. Under the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to a trial by jury for most criminal charges.
The right to a jury trial is not universal, however; the Supreme Court has ruled that the right applies only to serious offenses carrying a possible sentence of at least six months incarceration. For lesser charges with shorter potential sentences, your case may be heard by a judge without a jury.
Your criminal defense attorney will advise you on whether your case will be heard by a judge or jury. If your case will be presented before a jury, you’ll need to understand the steps in a jury trial.
Selecting the Jury
If your trial is heard by a jury in California, the presiding judge first requests that a group of possible jurors be sent to the courtroom to begin the process of seating the jury.
Prospective jurors must swear to tell the truth regarding their qualifications, and the judge warns jurors that lying before the court — known as perjury — can result in criminal charges. The judge also provides a brief overview of the case at hand.
The prosecution and your defense team choose jurors through a process known as voir dire, which involves questioning to determine suitability for service on a jury. Voir dire continues until both sides accept 12 jurors who can decide the facts of the case in an impartial manner, and alternate jurors may be chosen as well.
After the jury is selected, members take an oath to deliver a true verdict based only on the evidence presented at trial and instructions from the court. Jurors are told to disregard any evidence or instruction they receive other than through the court. They also are told that their role is just as important as that of the judge in ensuring a just verdict.
Arguing Your Case
Before the trial begins, the judge explains to jurors their duties under California law, including:
- Not talking to anyone about the case outside the jury room.
- Keeping an open mind about the case until all evidence is presented.
- Not engaging in any separate investigation of the case.
Also prior to trial commencement, your defense attorney and the prosecution can request that the court allow or reject specific evidence. Each side makes its opening statements to the jury to provide an overview of the evidence and arguments to be presented. In some cases, your defense attorney may not make an opening statement until the defense begins presenting its case.
The prosecution argues its case primarily by directly examining witnesses. Your defense attorney then may cross-examine witnesses. Once questioning is complete, the prosecution rests its case. If your attorney believes the prosecution has failed to make its case, a motion for dismissal may be entered.
Should the judge deny the motion to dismiss, your attorney then begins presenting evidence for the defense, including examination of witnesses. The prosecution may cross-examine witnesses before the defense rests and may enter a rebuttal to arguments made by your attorney.
The prosecution makes its closing arguments by providing a summary of the evidence against you. Your attorney provides a rebuttal to the prosecution with the defense closing arguments, explaining why the jury should find you not guilty of the charges. The prosecution may offer a final rebuttal, closing the trial phase.
Finally, the judge instructs the jury about applicable law and how the law should be applied to the facts of the case. The judge also advises the jury that in criminal cases, guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction.
Deliberations and Verdict
In the jury room, jurors first choose a foreperson, who ensures that all jurors can participate freely and that all issues to be decided are discussed. Jurors then consider the evidence presented and attempt to reach a verdict. If the jury needs additional information or clarification, the foreperson may notify the court attendant, who reconvenes all the parties in the courtroom.
In California criminal cases, verdicts must be by unanimous agreement of all 12 jurors. Once the jury reaches its verdict, the foreperson dates and signs the document, alerts the court attendant, and all parties return to the courtroom. If the jury cannot reach a verdict, the judge may rule a mistrial and dismiss the jurors. In this case, the trial process starts over with a new jury.
You Deserve a Fair Trial
The jury trial process in California is complex, and it’s critical that you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can argue your case effectively and protect your rights. To schedule a free consultation, please contact Lance Daniel, Attorney at Law.