In the immediate aftermath of an arrest in Colorado, most people aren’t thinking about their constitutional rights and a potential trial down the road. Arrestees are concerned with the impact of the arrest on their families and their employment, as well as their immediate freedom. However, as a criminal case progresses, it may become clear that a trial is the best option in the case. So, what are the basics of a trial in a criminal case?
In “bench” trials, there is only one factfinder and decisionmaker – the judge. However, in a jury trial, a panel of individuals from the defendant’s community will be the ones to decide on a “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict. As a result, the first step in a criminal jury trial is to select the jury members. This is done by bringing in a random draw of individuals selected for jury duty, and then the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge will ask questions of these individuals to make sure that they can serve as a juror without bias. Once the jury members are selected, the next steps in the trial can proceed.
Opening statements are an opportunity for both the prosecution and defense to lay out their vision of the case, what evidence will be presented and what that evidence means. From there, the presentation of evidence will begin, usually through witness testimony and the introduction of physical evidence.
Once all of the evidence has been presented by both sides, and both sides have cross-examined witnesses as much as they wish, both sides will be able to make closing arguments. This is an opportunity to frame the evidence that was presented in a way that gets the jury to make a decision – guilty, from the prosecution’s standpoint, and not guilty from the defense standpoint. After closing arguments, the judge will provide certain instructions to the jury, after which they jury will “deliberate.” From there, the jury will try to reach a verdict in the case.