While many Minnesota residents likely think they know what a criminal trial involves due to scenes from movies or television, a lot more goes into these cases than typically shown in fictional settings. If you currently face criminal charges and a trial to address the accusations is imminent, you undoubtedly want to know the details of what you will likely face.
One of the biggest differences between real-life trials and fictional trials is that cases can span months or even years. Often, fictionalized cases are started and wrapped up with a vague timeline, but in reality, the process starts way before arguments are heard in the courtroom.
Stages of a criminal trial
With a jury trial, which most criminal trials are, choosing the jury takes place during the first stage of the trial. Jury candidates will go through questioning, typically from the judge and attorneys on both sides, to determine whether they fit the needs of the case. The selection works toward ruling out any biases that could unfairly affect the case.
After the jury is chosen, the trial moves forward with the following stages:
- Opening statements, which involve the prosecution and defense present details of the case to the jury and what they intend to prove or disprove
- Witness testimony and cross-examination, which involve called witnesses going to the stand to answer questions under oath and the defense and prosecution presenting or disputing evidence
- Closing arguments, which involve the prosecution and defense summing up their stances and the defense typically pointing out issues with the prosecution’s argument and inability to meet the burden of proof
- Jury instruction, which involves the judge providing the jury with the legal standards applicable to the case, which the jury will use to come to a verdict
- Jury deliberation and verdict, which involve the jury discussing the case, often at length, in efforts to come to an agreement on the verdict of guilty or not guilty
In some cases, a jury cannot come to a unanimous verdict. If this happens, your case will likely start over with a new jury.
Of course, much of your case will take place outside of the courtroom. Depending on the nature of the charges, authorities and the prosecution may attempt to gather evidence from your personal property or speak to individuals close to you for information. Additionally, you will want to work on your criminal defense strategies in efforts to approach your time in the courtroom as well as possible during your trial.