Once any pre-trial motions and hearings are completed, unless the defendant pleads guilty, the case will continue to trial. A criminal trial is a formal examination of evidence before a court or a jury to determine whether a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charges brought against him. A defendant has the right to a jury trial in all felony cases and in all misdemeanor cases that carry a potential sentence of six months or more in jail. A defendant may waive his right to a jury trial (except when charged with murder in the first degree) and instead be tried by a judge, which is known as a bench trial.

Jury Selection

Jury selection, also know an as voir dire, is the first stage of a jury trial. In jury selection the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney question a pool of potential jurors to determine whether they can be fair and impartial in the case.

After questioning members of the jury pool, the attorneys inform the judge regarding which prospective jurors they wish to excuse from the case. An attorney may challenge the inclusion of any prospective juror if the juror expresses a bias or a belief that he cannot be fair; this is known as a challenge for cause. The judge must agree that the juror is biased before a challenge for cause is granted. An attorney may also dismiss a limited number of potential juror without cause; this is known as a peremptory challenge. However, under no circumstances may prospective jurors be excused based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

In a felony trial the jury consists of twelve jurors, with as many alternate jurors as are needed depending on the length of the trial. In a Class A misdemeanor trial the jury consists of six jurors, with one or two alternate jurors. Class B misdemeanors and violations are tried by a judge without a jury. Once the required number of jurors is approved by both sides, the jurors are sworn and seated in the jury box. The judge then explains the trial procedure, the basic principles of law, and the jurors' duties.

Opening Statements

After the jury has received its instructions, the prosecutor delivers an opening statement to the jury. The defendant's attorney may make an opening statement, but is not required to do so. In an opening, the attorney explains what he expects the evidence in the trial will show.

Presentation of Evidence

First the prosecution presents its evidence. This evidence may be in the form of testimony from witnesses under oath as well as physical evidence, records, or exhibits. The defense attorney may then question (cross-examine) the prosecution's witnesses. At the end of the prosecution's presentation the defendant may move to dismiss certain charges on the theory that the trial evidence is insufficient to establish the crimes charged.

Following the presentation of the prosecutions case, the defense may present its case. As the prosecution did, the defense presents its evidence and the prosecutor may cross-examine the defense witnesses. The defendant has the absolute right to testify or not testify.

After the defense case is completed, the prosecutor may then seek to offer evidence in rebuttal, or response to the defense's evidence. The defense may then seek to offer evidence to rebut the prosecution's rebuttal evidence. During the presentation of evidence, the judge takes notes, makes rulings of law, and clarifies issues for the jury.


After all evidence has been presented, the defense may deliver a summation (closing argument) to the jury. The prosecutor must then deliver a summation. The summations review the evidence and present arguments based upon the evidence in the case to try to persuade the jury to convict or acquit the defendant.

Jury Charge and Deliberation

The judge delivers instructions to the jury (charges) on the law and explains legal concepts such as the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof, and the elements of each crime charged. After receiving its instructions the jury considers the evidence that has been presented to it (deliberates) and determines whether or not the prosecutor has proven the defendant's guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Deliberations occur in private in a closed room, and continue as long as is necessary to reach a verdict. During deliberation the jury may ask to review evidence introduced at trial or to have instructions or testimony re-read.


The decision of the jury (verdict) must be unanimous. If the jury decides that the evidence presented does not prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the verdict will be not guilty and the defendant cannot be retried again in a state court for the same charges. If the jury decides that the evidence presented did prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the verdict will be guilty and the case is adjourned for sentencing. If the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict (a hung jury) the judge declares a mistrial and the prosecution will consider whether or not to re-try the case.