The first step in the trial process is selecting the jurors. The jurors are chosen by means specified in the particular legislation of the state. Usually the designated official such as, jury commissioner, clerk of the court, or sheriff choose jurors. They pick the jurors from voter registration lists, motor vehicle records, or even combination of these sources. These names are put on pieces of paper and drawn randomly by some means. These potential jurors compose what is known as the jury panel, or venire.
After the jurors are selected the process of voir dire examination begins. This is the process of examining each potential juror under oath to see if he or she is acceptable to both the prosecution and the defense. After the jurors are selected the trial process may begin. The indictment or information is read, and the state makes its opening statement. In the opening statement, the prosecutor explains how the state plans to introduce witnesses and physical evidence that will show that the accused committed the crime being tried.
Next, the defense makes its opening statement, it can wave this right if it desires. In the defense’s opening statement they show how they will prove the accused innocent. After the opening statements conclude, the state’s case is presented. At this time the state calls upon their first witness. The prosecutor begins with a direct examination of the witness. Usually, a direct examination consists of eliciting facts in chronological order from the witness. After the examination the prosecution rests and the defense is permitted to cross-examine the witness.
In the defense cross-examination, most states apply what is referred to as the restrictive rule. With this rule, the defense counsel must restrict questions brought out by the prosecutor during the direct examination. After the cross-examination the prosecutor is given a chance to conduct a redirect examination of the witness. Often the prosecutor will only question the new facts brought out in the defense’s cross-examination. The defense is then given the opportunity to conduct a recross-examination of the new facts brought out in the redirect examination. When the state has concluded its case, it rests.
The defense case is the next stage of the trial. Sometimes the defense will make a motion for dismissal “beyond reasonable doubt.” If the judge concurs, the case is dismissed, and the accused is released. If the judge doesn’t accept the motion, the defense then begins its case. After the defense has concluded its case, it rests.
The next phase of the trial is called the prosecutor’s rebuttal. The prosecutor may elect to bring in new witnesses or evidence against the accused. The same format of direct examination, cross-examination, redirect, and recross-examination is followed. At the conclusion of the prosecutor’s rebuttal, the defense can again make a motion for dismissal of charges, which is referred to as requesting a directed verdict or verdict of acquittal. If the motion is denied, the defense is entitled to the defense surrebuttal, and alternating examinations by both sides are again conducted. Finally, both sides present their closing arguments.
At the conclusion of the closing arguments to the jury, the judge orders the jury to return to the jury room and consider the facts of the case and testimony presented, and from their discussions to return a just verdict. The foreperson of the jury often begins the deliberations by taking a vote of the jury. Although the first vote can result in a unanimous verdict, usually, the first vote indicates a divided jury. The jurors then discuss the case further in an attempt to resolve their differences and reach an agreement.
When a jury can’t reach a unanimous verdict it’s called a “hung jury.” Sometimes a hung jury causes the trial to be dismissed, but not always. Once a jury has reached a verdict, the jury is brought back into the courtroom, where the defendant, the judge, and the attorneys for the prosecution and defense are present.
The judge inquires if the jurors have reached a verdict. When they reply they have, the bailiff takes the written verdict that the foreperson has signed and attested to and hands it to the judge. The judge then reads it and hands it back to the bailiff or to the jury foreperson to read aloud in court. If and when the accused is charged guilty, some states allow the defense to ask the court to poll the jury. The judge asks each juror individually if the verdict announced his or her verdict. This is done to determine that each juror is in agreement with the verdict rendered and has not been pressured into voting a particular way by other jurors.
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