What is a Criminal Trial?
If you plead not guilty to a crime, it's the State's burden to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the State does this at a criminal trial.
When a defendant is charged with a crime, they're presumed innocent until proven guilty. So, a prosecution has to prove someone guilty at a trial. Now, in all felony cases, DUI cases and theft cases, this has to be a trial by jury. In most misdemeanor cases it's a bench trial.
Now, a criminal trial basically goes through different stages. The first part of the criminal trial are opening statements. So, the lawyers in the case will give the trier a fact, whether it's a jury or a judge a preview of what the evidence is going to be presented at the trial. Those are called opening statements. It's not argument, it's just a preview of what evidence is going to be presented, a sneak peek if you will.
So, after the opening statements, the prosecution goes first and presents their evidence. Why does prosecution go first? Well, that's because the prosecution has the burden of proof, so they have to go first. They—it's their burden and the burden never shifts to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So, the State has to present evidence first. Now, after the State is done presenting it's evidence, it will tell the court that the State rests and that they have presented all the evidence that they intend to present.
Now, after the State presents their evidence a defendant or defense attorney has the opportunity to argue what's called a directed verdict or a motion for a directed verdict called a Motion for Rule 20. So, what the defense argues at that point is that, after the State has presented all their evidence, if there is no evidence to show that the defendant committed that crime based on what was presented at trial, the Court could enter a direct verdict.
Now, most of the time these motions are denied because the State has presented some evidence to prove a defendant guilty. So, it is then the defense attorney's turn to present evidence on their own behalf. Now, a defendant doesn't have to present evidence on their own behalf because the State has the burden. But, the defendant chooses to present evidence, that's the time when they'll present their case. Now, after the defense has presented their evidence, the defense will rest and if the State wants to, because they still have the burden, the State could present rebuttal evidence at that point.
Now, after all the evidence is concluded, the lawyers will present closing arguments. So, arguments are presented to the judge or the jury and the attorneys argue about what inferences can be made by the evidence presented, and give reasons why the defendant is either guilty or not guilty of the crimes they are charged with. After the closing arguments are made, the jury will then deliberate on a defendant's guilt or innocence, or if it's a bench trial, the Judge will make a ruling on the record about the defendant's guilt or innocence, or may take the matter under advisement and consider all the evidence that was presented before a verdict on a defendant's guilt or innocence.
Then, after that verdict is made and if there is a guilty verdict that's given, the Court will then set the case later for a judgment and sentencing. The criminal trial is the pinnacle of what a criminal defense attorney does. It's the most critical proceeding in any criminal case. It is always best to find an experienced trial lawyer to represent you at a trial.