Once any pre-trial hearings are finished and you have chosen not to plead guilty, your case will go to a jury part for trial, where a judge or a jury will decide whether or not the prosecutor has proven your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You may waive a jury and be tried before the judge. You may not, however, waive a jury if you are charged with murder in the first degree, the only crime for which death is a possible sentence. The trial is a proceeding held in a public courtroom. You have an absolute right to attend the trial. However, if you are disruptive, you may be forced to leave the courtroom when the jury is present.

A jury trial begins with the selection of a jury from members of the county in which you are tried. A jury is chosen from people called to serve the week your trial begins. If you are charged with a felony, twelve jurors and two or more alternate jurors are chosen. If you are charged with a class A misdemeanor, six jurors and two or more alternate jurors are chosen. Class B misdemeanors and violations are tried before a judge.

At the beginning of your trial, a large number of people (jury panel) will enter the courtroom. The court clerk will call out the names of these people, who sit in the jury box. Each is questioned by the judge, prosecutor, and your lawyer about whether he can be a fair and impartial juror in your case. If any juror expresses bias or a belief that he cannot be fair, that person will be challenged for cause and will not sit as a juror in your trial. In addition, the prosecutor and you (through your lawyer) may object to having certain of these people sit on the jury even though the person has not expressed any bias or doubt as to his or her ability to be fair. This is called a peremptory challenge. The number of peremptory challenges each side has depends on the class of offense with which you are charged. Jurors may not be challenged based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

Once the required number of jurors has been 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.

The prosecutor then makes an opening statement to the jury. In the opening statement, the prosecutor tells the jury how he expects to prove that you committed the crime. Your lawyer may also make an opening statement to the jury, but is not required to do so. Evidence consists of the testimony of witnesses under sworn oath and exhibits. The questioning of witnesses testifying against you is called direct examination. Your lawyer will then question those witnesses (cross-examination). Both parties may ask to have physical evidence introduced (exhibits), as part of their case.

After the prosecutor has presented the case against you, you may, if you want, also present a case, called the defense. You have an absolute right to testify or not to testify. If you choose to testify and have been convicted of crimes in the past, the judge may permit the prosecutor to question you in front of the jury as to one or more of those convictions and/or bad acts. You cannot be forced to testify. You may also choose not to testify but to present witnesses on your behalf. Before you may be found guilty, the jury must decide whether or not the prosecutor has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, whether or not you have presented a defense.

If you present a defense, the judge may allow the prosecutor to present additional evidence in rebuttal to respond to any evidence you have presented. If the judge allows rebuttal evidence, your lawyer may then be allowed to present evidence in response to the prosecutor’s rebuttal. This is called surrebuttal.

After the evidence is presented, your lawyer and then the prosecutor will make closing arguments to the jury (the summations), each trying to persuade the jury to convict you or to acquit you. Following the summations, the judge will explain the law to the jury as it applies to your case (jury charge or jury instructions). The jury will then go to a closed room to deliberate.

The decision of the jury is called a verdict. If the jury decides that the evidence presented does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, the verdict will be not guilty. If the jury decides that the evidence presented did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, the verdict will be guilty. If you are charged with more than one crime, the jury may find you guilty of all of them, not guilty of all of them, or guilty of some and not guilty of the rest.

The verdict of the jury must be unanimous; that is, all of the jurors must agree on the verdict. Sometimes, after much deliberation, the jurors report that they cannot agree on a verdict. This is called a hung jury. If that happens, the judge declares a mistrial and the prosecutor will then decide whether or not to seek another trial of your case.

If you are found not guilty of any of the crimes charged, you have been acquitted of those charges and can never be tried again in State court for those same charges. If you are in jail and are acquitted of all the charges, you will be immediately released from jail. If you are found guilty, you have been convicted and must be sentenced. Your case will then be adjourned for sentencing.


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