I Have Been Charged With a Misdemeanor, Now What? (Step 4, Trial)
If you have been given a citation, arrested, or served with a summons for a misdemeanor offense, you probably want to know what is going to happen next. If you have never been charged with a crime it is totally understandable to be confused and concerned about the immediate consequences, and if you have been through “the system” before, understanding the rules and procedures of a misdemeanor case will enable you to properly exercise your rights. These articles were written to highlight and explain the procedure through which misdemeanor cases are processed in the limited jurisdiction courts.
“I Have Been Charged With a Misdemeanor, Now What?“
4. Bench or Jury Trial.
Bench or Jury Trial
If the defendant decides not to accept the State's plea offer or to continue negotiating with the prosecutor about a possible plea agreement, then the case must be set for a trial. The trial will either a bench trial (trial to a judge) or a jury trial.
Most misdemeanor defendants DO NOT have a right to a jury trial. Under Arizona law, the only offenses eligible for a misdemeanor jury trial are offenses that specifically allow a jury trial under statute and offenses which were eligible for a jury trial under “common law”. For practical purposes, the only offenses eligible for jury trial are theft and DUI cases.
A bench trial is heard by a judge. The judge makes the sole determination of the facts. It is usually preferable for a defendant to have a jury trial if at all possible, because the State has the burden to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt to each juror on the panel instead of a single judge.
The order of proceedings is the same for a jury or bench trial. Rule 19.1, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. The prosecutor has the burden of proof and will make opening remarks first. Then defense counsel will make opening remarks. These remarks are essentially a preview of what evidence will be presented during trial and a description of what the attorneys believe is the “theory of the case” to establish guilt or innocence.
The presentation of evidence will then begin. The State or prosecutor will present witnesses first. Exhibits may then be admitted into evidence. Cross examination of the State's witnesses is a fundamental right to challenge the reliability of the evidence against the accused. Defense Counsel will have an opportunity to cross examine the witnesses.
After the State rests, defense counsel may present their own witnesses and exhibits. Since the Defense does not have the burden of proof they may or may not present any evidence or witnesses. The Defendant also may not be compelled to testify. The decision to testify or not testify is that of the defendant alone under the advice of counsel.
After all evidence has been presented, the parties will make closing arguments. The purpose of closing arguments is to argue to the judge or jury what “weight” or reliability to give to the evidence and testimony, what inferences to make about the evidence, and how the facts apply to the law. A judge or jury will then deliberate or decide the guilt or innocence of the defendant and return a verdict of guilty or not guilty.