Congdon Law. PLLC.

What Actually Happens At A Criminal Trial?


The first phase of a criminal trial occurs before the trial even starts. The defendant chooses whether they would like to have a court trial, which is a judge deciding the case alone, or if they would like to have a jury trial. If you’re charged with a felony in Minnesota, you get a jury of 12 people to hear your case. If you’re charged with a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, you only get six people on your jury. Most people pick a jury trial because the prosecutor has to convince everybody on the jury that you’re guilty (not just one person, as in the case of a judge trial).

The next stage is selecting the jury. This is somewhat of a misnomer because we don’t really get to select the people that we want on the jury. It’s more like unselecting the people that we don’t want on the jury. This process is called voir dire, and it involves asking questions of the jury panel about their life and experiences. It is a way of trying to get a sense of how they would react in a case or a situation like the defendant is facing. After voir dire is complete, then the parties get to strike certain numbers of people. The defense always gets more than the prosecutor. Once the jury is selected, everybody moves into opening statements. The prosecutor goes first and then the defense. Once the opening statements are complete, testimony begins. Since the prosecutor has the burden of proof, they present all of their evidence first. After they’re done questioning each of their witnesses, the defense gets the chance to question those same witnesses, which is called cross-examination.

Once the prosecutor has presented all of the evidence and is done with their witnesses, they rest. Then it’s the defense’s turn to call any witnesses, including the client if that person chose to testify. At the end of all the witness testimony, closing arguments occur. The prosecutor goes first, then the defense goes, and then the prosecutor gets to go a second time. After that, it’s up to the judge (or the jury if it is a jury trial) to reach a verdict on the case.

What Happens If An Officer Or A Witness Fails To Show Up At A Criminal Trial?

Officers generally do not fail to show up for trial. Since they are usually still employed by the police department, they’re in regular contact with the prosecutor. Regular people or lay witnesses frequently don’t show up for a trial because they were never subpoenaed by the prosecutor or because they chose to ignore the subpoena. Depending on the type of case and whether or not the prosecutor thinks that they can find their witness, a judge could actually issue a witness warrant for the person in an attempt to force them to go to court (or to arrest them and bring them into court). Whether or not that happens is dependent on the type of case and the prosecutor. Generally, if a key witness doesn’t show up for trial, or can’t be found, after a certain period of time, then the case will be dismissed.

How Can Pre-Trial Counseling Or Treatment Impact The Outcome Of a Criminal Case?

Counseling and treatment don’t generally affect the outcome of a case at trial because trial is about the facts and whether or not the prosecutor can prove that a crime was committed. Counseling and treatment tend to be more helpful for sentencing. So, if the person is convicted at trial or if they’ve pled guilty, then having counseling or treatment records can be beneficial in convincing a judge to give a lesser sentence.

Are Most Criminal Trials Jury Trials Or Bench Trials? Do I Have A Preference?

Most trials are jury trials, because a prosecutor has to convince six or 12 people. All of the jurors have to be convinced in order for the defendant to be found guilty. In a court trial, only one person has to be convinced- the judge. Whether to have a court trial or a jury trial a decision that the client gets to make; the attorney cannot make that decision for them. The attorney can certainly give them their opinion and counsel them through that decision, but that’s one that the client definitely has to make. Generally, my advice for clients is to go with the jury trial, unless we’re facing a really, really serious, gruesome or emotional case. Sometimes those types of cases are better suited for judges who have seen autopsy photos in the past and things of that nature. As a result, they’re not going to be as emotionally upset, whereas a juror might make an emotional decision based on the photos that they’ve seen.

Is The Plea Offer Off The Table If Someone Is Convicted At Trial?

The plea offer is off-the-table if someone is convicted at trial. This is because once the person is convicted at trial, the judge determines the sentence. The prosecutor can make a recommendation and an argument, which is almost always a harsher sentence than what the plea offer was. However, because the judge gets to make the decision, we, as the defense, also get to make arguments for what the sentence should be. We can argue for less than what the original plea offer was, but ultimately the decision is up to the judge. There’s a bit of uncertainty as to what the sentence will be until the judge announces it.

For more information on Timeline Of A Criminal Trial In Minnesota, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (800) 684-9740 today.

Jennifer Congdon, Esq.

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