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A Detailed Explanation of the Jury Trial Process for the Client (Defendant)

by | Apr 18, 2024 | General Defense Info

Understanding the jury trial process from the defense’s point of view is crucial for any defendant in Tacoma, WA. This guide is designed to be easy to understand and provides an overview of what a defendant should expect throughout each stage of the trial.

1. Motions in Limine

What Happens: Motions in limine are legal motions filed by attorneys to the court prior to the start of a trial. The purpose is to request the court to rule on whether specific evidence can be included or excluded from the trial. This could involve evidence that might be prejudicial, irrelevant, or otherwise inappropriate for the jury to hear.

What You Need to Know:

  • Timing and Strategy: These motions are typically filed before the jury is empaneled. They are strategic tools used to shape the scope of the evidence and the issues that will be presented and discussed during the trial. By excluding damaging evidence before the trial starts, your defense can be significantly strengthened.
  • Common Examples: In a criminal defense context, common examples of evidence that might be targeted by motions in limine include:
    • Prior criminal records that could bias the jury.
    • Evidence obtained through questionable or illegal means, such as without a proper search warrant.
    • Highly prejudicial information, such as inflammatory remarks or irrelevant personal details about the defendant.
  • The Process: When filing a motion in limine, your defense attorney will present arguments to the judge explaining why certain evidence should be excluded. The prosecution may oppose this motion, and both sides may be asked to present their arguments in a hearing outside the presence of the jury.
  • Judge’s Ruling: The judge will rule on each motion in limine based on legal standards governing the admissibility of evidence. The rulings can significantly impact the flow and content of the trial, as they determine what the jury will and will not see or hear.
  • Impact on Trial: Successfully argued motions in limine can limit the prosecution’s evidence, potentially weakening their case. Conversely, the prosecution may also file motions in limine to exclude certain defense evidence, and preparing to counter these is equally important.

How to Prepare and Respond

What You Should Do:

  • Discuss with Your Attorney: Talk in detail with your defense lawyer about any potential prejudicial evidence that could be brought up during the trial. Understanding what motions in limine to file is a critical aspect of your defense strategy.
  • Understand the Implications: Be aware of how these motions, if granted or denied, will affect your defense. Knowing the possible outcomes will help you prepare mentally and strategically for the trial.
  • Plan for Both Outcomes: Prepare your trial strategy with your attorney assuming both the inclusion and exclusion of the contested evidence. This ensures you are not caught off guard by the judge’s decision.

Motions in limine are a proactive measure to safeguard your rights and ensure a fair trial by preventing potentially harmful evidence from ever reaching the ears of the jury. Understanding this aspect of legal strategy is essential for any defendant preparing for trial.

2. Selection of the Jury

What Happens: The process begins with jury selection, where potential jurors are interviewed to determine their suitability for serving on the jury. This phase is called voir dire, which involves questioning from both the defense and the prosecution to identify any biases that might affect their impartiality.

What You Need to Know: Your defense attorney will work to ensure that jurors selected do not have preconceived notions or biases that could negatively impact your case. You can discuss potential concerns about jurors with your attorney.

3. Opening Statements

What Happens: After the jury is selected, the trial begins with opening statements. The prosecution will present their case first, outlining the charges against you and summarizing the evidence they plan to present. Your defense attorney will then provide an overview of your case, highlighting evidence that supports your innocence or counters the prosecution’s claims.

What You Need to Know: This is the first opportunity for your defense team to frame your story for the jury. The defense’s opening statement can set the tone for what the jury should pay attention to during the trial.

4. Presentation of Evidence

What Happens: The prosecution presents its case first, calling witnesses and presenting evidence to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. After the prosecution rests, your defense team will have the opportunity to present its case. This may involve calling your own witnesses, presenting counter-evidence, and possibly having you testify, depending on the strategy your lawyer recommends.

What You Need to Know: Stay calm and composed, especially if you choose to testify. Every piece of evidence or testimony can be crucial, and your attorney will guide you on how to proceed, including how to handle cross-examinations.

5. Objections

What Happens: During the trial, when the opposing counsel presents evidence or asks questions that violate the rules of evidence or other procedural laws, the opposing attorney may raise an objection. This is a formal protest lodged with the judge concerning the admissibility or appropriateness of a question, statement, or piece of evidence.

What You Need to Know:

  • Purpose: The main purpose of objections is to prevent potentially harmful evidence from being seen or heard by the jury, or to prevent the opposing counsel from asking inappropriate or leading questions.
  • Common Types of Objections:
    • Hearsay: Arguing that the evidence is hearsay and not admissible unless it meets an exception to the hearsay rule.
    • Relevance: Contesting evidence that is not relevant to the case’s facts.
    • Leading Questions: Challenging questions posed to a witness that suggest the answer within the question itself (typically not allowed during direct examination).
    • Speculation: Preventing witnesses from making speculations rather than stating facts.
  • Effect: If the judge sustains the objection, the evidence or question is disallowed. If overruled, the evidence or question is allowed.

6. Sidebars

What Happens: A sidebar is a conversation at the judge’s bench away from the jury and usually out of earshot. This can occur at the request of either attorney or sometimes by the judge’s initiation.

What You Need to Know:

  • Purpose: Sidebars are used to discuss sensitive matters, detailed legal issues, or disputes about trial procedures without the jury hearing every detail. This prevents the jury from being swayed or prejudiced by discussions over contested points of law or procedure.
  • Common Reasons for Sidebars:
    • To argue further about an objection without influencing the jury.
    • To discuss the admissibility of upcoming evidence before it is presented to the jury.
    • To clarify procedural matters with the judge without disrupting the trial’s flow.
  • Outcome: The judge may make a ruling based on the sidebar discussions, which can affect how the trial proceeds or how evidence is presented.

How to Prepare and Respond

What You Should Do:

  • Stay Informed: Understand the types of objections that might arise during your trial. Discuss with your attorney so you are aware of what might prompt a sidebar or an objection.
  • Trust Your Attorney: Your defense attorney will handle objections and sidebars. They are trained to react quickly and appropriately to protect your interests during the trial.
  • Observe and Learn: Observing how your attorney handles these situations can provide you with insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your case as the trial progresses.

Understanding objections and sidebars will help you appreciate the dynamics and flow of your trial, providing reassurance that your defense is actively managed in real-time, responding to issues as they arise to safeguard your legal rights.

7. Closing Arguments

What Happens: After both sides have presented their cases, each will make a closing argument. The prosecution will attempt to tie all their evidence together and argue why the jury should convict you. Your defense attorney will summarize the key points of your case, highlight flaws in the prosecution’s evidence, and argue why you should be found not guilty.

What You Need to Know: Closing arguments are the last chance for your lawyer to speak directly to the jury on your behalf. It’s a critical moment to reinforce your defense and persuade the jury of your innocence.

8. Jury Deliberation

What Happens: The jury leaves the courtroom to deliberate. During this time, they discuss the case in private, reviewing evidence and testimonies to reach a verdict. They must come to a unanimous decision to either convict or acquit.

What You Need to Know: This can be a tense time since you have no influence over the jury’s discussions. Be prepared for any outcome, and discuss with your lawyer the possible steps in case of both acquittal and conviction.

9. Verdict

What Happens: Once the jury reaches a verdict, they will return to the courtroom to announce it. The verdict will be either ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ on the charges faced.

What You Need to Know: Regardless of the verdict, understand your options moving forward. If convicted, your attorney can discuss the possibilities for appeal or other legal remedies. If acquitted, they can advise on steps to take to recover from the trial and manage any lingering legal issues.

10. Sentencing (if applicable)

What Happens: If the verdict is guilty, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled. During this hearing, both sides can present additional information to influence the severity of the sentence.

What You Need to Know: Your defense attorney can argue for a lighter sentence based on various factors like your background, the circumstances of the offense, and any mitigating elements. Be prepared to contribute to your defense during this phase, possibly through personal testimony or character witnesses.

Understanding each phase of the trial process helps you navigate the complexities of your defense and work effectively with your attorney to achieve the best possible outcome.