What to Expect in a Criminal Trial

Being charged with a crime can be a frightening and confusing experience. The unfamiliar environment of the courtroom, the strange legal jargon, and the potential consequences can leave you feeling overwhelmed. If you’re facing a criminal trial, understanding the process can alleviate some of that anxiety and help you prepare effectively. Here, we’ll break down the different stages of a criminal trial, what to expect, and how you can best navigate this important legal proceeding.

The pre-trial phase

Before the trial begins, there’s a period of preparation and legal maneuvering. Here’s what typically happens:

  • Arraignment: This is your initial court appearance where the charges against you are formally read, and you enter a plea of “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest.” Your Franklin criminal defense attorney can discuss the best plea strategy for your case.
  • Pretrial motions: Your defense attorney may file motions to suppress evidence obtained illegally, challenge the charges against you, or request a change of venue if there’s a risk of an unfair trial due to local bias.
  • Discovery: This is the exchange of information between the prosecution and the defense. You and your attorney will have the opportunity to review the evidence the prosecution intends to use against you. This helps build your defense strategy.
  • Plea negotiations: In many cases, the prosecution and defense will attempt to reach a plea bargain. This involves pleading guilty to a lesser charge or receiving a lighter sentence in exchange for cooperation or avoiding a lengthy trial.
  • Jury selection (“voir dire”): This is the process of selecting a jury of impartial individuals who will hear the evidence and determine your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecution and defense will have the opportunity to question potential jurors to ensure they are unbiased.

The trial itself

Once the pre-trial phase is complete, the main event – the trial – begins. Here’s a breakdown of what unfolds in court:

  • Opening statements: The prosecution and defense will deliver opening statements, outlining their case and the evidence they intend to present.
  • Presentation of evidence: The prosecution will be the first to call witnesses and present evidence to support their case. Each witness will be sworn in and questioned by the prosecutor. Your attorney will then have the opportunity to cross-examine the witness, challenging their testimony and credibility. This back-and-forth questioning is an essential part of the trial.
  • The defense case: After the prosecution rests its case, your defense team will present your case. This may involve calling witnesses to provide testimony that supports your innocence or raises doubt about the prosecution’s case.
  • Closing arguments: After both sides have presented their evidence, the closing arguments begin. The prosecution and defense will summarize their cases for the jury, emphasizing the key points and urging the jury to find you guilty or not guilty.
  • Jury instructions and deliberations: The judge will instruct the jury on the law and the specific legal elements the prosecution needs to prove to convict you. The jury will then deliberate in private, discussing the evidence and reaching a verdict.

The verdict

The jury will deliberate until they reach a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty. Here’s what to expect based on the outcome:

  • Guilty verdict: If you’re found guilty, the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing where your punishment will be determined. Your attorney can argue for a lighter sentence based on mitigating factors.
  • Not guilty verdict: If you’re found not guilty, the charges against you are dismissed, and you are free to go.

Who are the people in the courtroom?

Understanding the roles of the different participants in the courtroom can help you navigate the process more effectively:

  • Judge: The judge presides over the trial, ensuring that the rules of evidence are followed and maintaining order in the courtroom. They will instruct the jury on the law and pronounce the sentence if you are found guilty.
  • Prosecutor: The prosecutor represents the state or government and is responsible for proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Defense attorney: Your defense attorney works on your behalf, protecting your rights and building a strong case for your innocence. At Adrian Altshuler & Associates, we will advise you throughout the process and ensure you understand your options.
  • Jury: The jury is a group of impartial citizens who will listen to the evidence presented at trial and determine your guilt or innocence.

Working most effectively with your Franklin criminal defense attorney

The most critical step you can take is to secure skilled and experienced legal representation. Here’s how to ensure a productive collaboration with your attorney:

  • Be honest and open: Provide your attorney with all the details of your case, even if they seem incriminating.
  • Be clear about your goals: Discuss your desired outcome with your attorney, whether it’s aiming for a dismissal of charges, a not-guilty verdict, or exploring a plea bargain.
  • Ask questions: Don’t hesitate to ask your attorney questions about the legal process, potential strategies, and anything else you don’t understand.
  • Follow your attorney’s instructions: Trust your attorney’s expertise and follow their guidance regarding courtroom behavior, communication with the judge and jury, and witness interactions.
  • Maintain open communication: Keep your attorney informed of any new developments or changes in your situation.

Take care of yourself

A criminal trial can be a stressful ordeal. Here are some tips for taking care of yourself during this challenging time:

  • Stay calm and composed: Maintain a calm and respectful demeanor in the courtroom. Avoid outbursts or emotional displays that could damage your case.
  • Dress appropriately: Dress professionally to create a positive impression on the judge and jury.
  • Be patient: The legal process can be slow. Maintain patience and trust in your attorney’s strategy.
  • Focus on self-care: Prioritize your well-being. Eat healthy, get enough sleep, and engage in activities that help you manage stress. Lean on your support system for emotional encouragement.

If you’re facing a criminal charge, don’t try to handle the legal system alone. An experienced Franklin criminal defense attorney can be your strongest advocate, protecting your rights and fighting for the best possible outcome. Contact the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates today for a free consultation. We’ll answer your questions, explain your legal options, and provide the strong defense you deserve. Call our offices or submit our contact form to set up a consultation in Franklin, Brentwood, or Columbia today.