Understanding the Parts of a Criminal Trial

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The trial in criminal law is the part of the legal process by which an accused person is accused of a crime and the evidence is presented. The United States Constitution, through its Sixth Amendment, guarantees to every person accused of a crime “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.”

The goal of this article is to provide you with enough information about what happens during a typical criminal trial so that you can better understand what your client will be going through. The ultimate goal of this article is to help educate readers about how the criminal justice system works in general.

The Criminal Trial Process

The process of a criminal trial will differ depending on the severity of the crime, as well as the jurisdiction. Regardless, there are certain steps that will be followed no matter what.

The first step in a criminal trial is usually to select a jury or have a judge try the case without one. Jury selection is typically done by picking people from venire, which is a group of potential jurors who have been summoned to court for possible service. Next, each side has an opportunity to question both the prosecution and defense witnesses. After this occurs, both sides will provide their closing arguments, summarizing what they think should happen through argumentation and persuasion of the jury members. Finally, the jury decides whether the person on trial is guilty or not guilty of committing the crime based on all of the evidence presented during trial.

Jury Selection and What You Should Know

It is important to know that jury selection is one of the most important parts of a trial. The jury will decide on the verdict and all the evidence must be presented to them. There are two types of trials: criminal and civil. When you have a criminal trial, the jury is not only deciding on guilt or innocence but also whether someone should serve time in prison, be executed, or receive probation.

The first step in jury selection is to randomly pick 12 jurors from a pool of people who show up at court. You can then decide whether you want to use any challenges for those jurors that appear biased against your client’s case such as previous involvement with law enforcement (e.g., police officer) or if they have close ties with the prosecution (e.g., family members). If you do not use your challenges for these jurors, they cannot be used again during your trial unless you find out new information about them later on in the process and challenges them again using this new information.

The next step in jury selection is to choose six alternate jurors who will fill in if one of the 12 original jurors cannot continue with their role. Once these alternate jurors are chosen, they cannot be replaced unless there is an injury or illness that prevents them from continuing with their role.

Opening Statements and Evidence

Opening statements are a lawyer’s opportunity to introduce their case to the jury. The opening statement should be a succinct overview of the evidence that will be presented at trial. In criminal cases, it is typically the prosecution’s job to present its evidence first before the defense presents any evidence.

The prosecution will call witnesses and introduce physical or documentary evidence by having them testify. The prosecution may also offer expert opinion from a doctor, detective, or other expert in an attempt to explain the defendant’s actions and intent. Finally, the prosecutor will summarize how they believe their evidence proves that the defendant committed the crime and why they should be found guilty.

Often times there are two phases within a trial called direct examination and cross-examination. Direct examination refers to when one attorney asks questions of their own witness and cross-examination refers to when one attorney asks questions of an opposing witness.

Before jurors can start deliberating on whether or not someone is guilty of a crime, both sides need to present their argument as to how they believe the events transpired. This process involves presenting witnesses who either support or refute your claim as well as providing corroborating or contradictory evidence that supports your case.

Cross-Examination and Closing Arguments

In this article, we’ve covered the parts of a trial and what typically happens in a criminal trial. The final two parts of a trial are cross-examination and closing arguments.

The purpose of cross-examination is to have the opposing side question your witness under oath. If you’re on the prosecution’s side, it means asking the defendant questions that will allow you to attack their credibility or expose them as a liar. On the defense’s side, it means asking the prosecution’s witness questions that’ll help prove your case.

Closing arguments are typically given by both sides before final deliberations from the jury on guilt or innocence. They provide an opportunity for each team to summarize what they think happened during the course of trial and why their version of events should be believed by the jury members who will ultimately decide on a verdict of not guilty or guilty.

Jury Deliberations and Verdict

The jury’s task is to reach a verdict on the defendant’s guilt. The jury deliberates in private, and reaches its decision by majority vote. If the jury cannot agree, the judge has some choices for resolving the deadlock.

The first choice is to declare a mistrial and discharge the jury, meaning that no one wins. A second choice is to dismiss the jurors who are guilty of misconduct or whose views are hopelessly deadlocked. This leaves eleven jurors for a retrial, but if there are less than twelve qualified jurors remaining, the defendant must be released. A third option is to have more counsel question witnesses or call additional evidence before deciding whether to select an alternate juror or ask for a mistrial.


A criminal trial is the legal process by which a person accused of a crime is determined to be either guilty or not guilty. It’s comprised of many components, each with its own unique role in the trial. While the jury is the one who ultimately decides the verdict, there are many steps in the process before the trial actually begins.

If you are in need of a criminal lawyer, please call us at 212-729-9494 or schedule your initial consultation today.