A criminal trial protects your right to confront witnesses against you if you have been accused of a crime. It can be a long and arduous process consisting of many steps.
Some of the stages of a trial include:
- Jury selection (if you have a jury trial),
- Opening statements,
- Presentation of evidence,
- Closing arguments,
- Verdict, and
Although this blog discusses what you can expect at a criminal trial, it must be noted that most cases do not go to trial. Instead, they are resolved through plea deals with prosecutors. The path your case takes will depend on your situation. It is best to speak with a criminal defense lawyer to understand your options.
The Criminal Trial Process in Utah
The criminal trial process is very nuanced and involves a lot of rules, laws, and procedures. Therefore, covering all the details in this blog would be difficult. Additionally, each case is different, meaning not every one will follow the same steps.
Still, we understand that going through the justice system without knowing what to expect can add greater stress to an already stressful situation. Thus, we will provide a concise overview of the stages and invite you to reach out to us to discuss the particulars of your case.
Selecting a Jury
Most cases that go to trial are heard by a jury (referred to as a jury trial). A jury consists of members of the community who have been vetted to avoid biases, prejudices, or other conflicts of interest that could undermine the integrity of the case.
In Utah, the number of jurors in a panel depends on the type of case:
- 12 members for capital cases
- 8 members for non-capital first-degree felony aggravated murder or any offense punishable by more than 1 year of incarceration
- 6 members for offenses punishable by more than 6 months to 1 year of incarceration
- 4 members for offenses punishable by 6 months or less of incarceration
Jury trials are held for all felony cases unless the defendant waives their right to a jury. In misdemeanor matters, the defendant can choose whether to have a jury hear the case. The default is that misdemeanors are not heard by a jury. The defendant must exercise their right to a jury trial by submitting a written request 14 days before the trial.
Matters that aren’t heard by a jury are presented before a judge only (called a bench trial).
Making Opening Statements
At the start of the trial, the prosecution and defense may make opening statements. The remarks tell the judge or jury what each side plans to prove and the evidence they will use to support their claims.
After both sides make opening statements, the prosecutor and defense present their evidence. Evidence can include witness testimony and physical items.
When each side is finished presenting its evidence, the other side can cross-examine the witnesses. This part of the process allows the defense and prosecutor to show the judge or jury weaknesses in the other side’s proof. The prosecutor aims to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged offense. The defense works to cast doubt in the minds of the judge or jury.
Giving Closing Arguments
The closing arguments summarize the case and evidence. They remind the judge or jury of what was presented throughout the trial and serve as a final chance to persuade the fact finder to adopt a certain position. Both the prosecutor and defense have the opportunity to give them.
Deliberating on the Facts
After the prosecutor and defense have given their closing arguments, the jury will go into deliberations. The jurors will consider the evidence presented during the trial to determine whether or not to convict the defendant.
Making a Verdict
In jury trials, the jurors must decide the outcome unanimously. That means each juror must agree that the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The judge will call a mistrial and order a new trial if the jurors cannot agree.
In bench trials, the judge alone will decide the verdict.
Imposing a Sentence
If the defendant is found guilty, the judge must sentence them. They will determine whether the defendant will be incarcerated and for how long, as well as the fine to be rendered. The judge may also order any other statutorily allowed and necessary penalties to punish the defendant.
Speak with Lokken & Putnam, P.C.
A criminal trial can be complex and overwhelming, which is why it is important to have a defense attorney guiding you through your case. Your lawyer can assist you through the process and may seek a favorable outcome by negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors and avoid going to trial.