Only a small percentage of cases actually result in a trial. At trial, the guilt of the defendant will be decided by a jury or a judge. Prosecution, witnesses and defense witnesses will be subpoenaed (summoned) in advance to testify before a judge, or a judge and a jury. Once the jury is selected and sworn, the prosecution and the defense make opening statements to the jury to explain the case.
The Deputy County Attorney assigned to prosecute the case will begin by presenting the case against the defendant. This is commonly referred to as the “State’s case in chief.” It is the burden of the State to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime(s) charged. The defense attorney will then have an opportunity to present its case in chief.
Most evidence will be in the form of testimony from witnesses. Witnesses will be called to testify under oath and may be cross-examined by the opposing side. Witnesses are excluded from the courtroom until they testify. However, the victim, has the right to be present throughout the trial, regardless of whether they testify.
At the end of the case in chiefs, the judge will then instruct the jury on the law governing the case and their duty as jurors, attorneys for the prosecution and defense make final arguments to the judge or jury. Finally, if need be alternates for the jury will be selected and the judge will order the jury to deliberate.
If the evidence convinces the judge or a unanimous jury that the defendant committed the crime(s) beyond a reasonable doubt, then a guilty verdict will return. The case will then be scheduled for sentencing.
If the jury or judge is not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, a verdict of “not guilty” is returned and the charges against the defendant are dismissed. If the jury is unable to reach a verdict the Judge will declare a mistrial. The State may then request the case be retried, and a new jury will be selected.