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A trial is a formal legal process where a judge presides over a presentation of facts and conjecture by a prosecution team, and countered by arguments form the defense team, made to a jury of 12 people. The job of the jury is to convene, discuss the information provided, and arrive at a verdict (outcome).
Opening Statements refers to the beginning of the trial, at which point the lead prosecutor and lead defense counsel address the court, specifically the jury, with an introduction of their position regarding the case.
Having to satisfy the burden of proof, the prosecutor speaks first, followed by a rebuttal of sorts by the defense lawyer.
Witness Testimony and Presentation of Evidence
Immediately following the Opening Statements, the prosecutor begins by calling to the stand their first witness. The prosecutor asks questions to bring forth answers that validate their assertions. As part of the questioning (direct examination) the prosecutor may ask the witness to say things they know about the case, identify the accused in court, or present physical evidence related to the witness testimony.
After the prosecutor ends the examination of each witness, the defense lawyer has an equal opportunity to question (cross examine) the witness. The defense lawyer's objective is to cast doubt on the veracity of the testimony, find discrepancies between testimony and evidence, and bring forth testimony that the prosecutor avoided because it would diminish their assertions.
After the defense attorney completes their cross examination of a witness, the prosecutor may ask follow-up questions with the intent to overcome any testimony they find troubling.
When the prosecutor has called forth all of their witnesses to testify, the prosecutor will then rest their case.
At this point in the trial, the defense may bring forth new (often unknown) witnesses, expert witnesses, and present previously undisclosed evidence to the jury.
Notably, the defense team has no requirement to prove innocence, but rather, the government has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the alleged crime(s)
After the presentations (questioning and testimony) have concluded, both sides make summary statements to the jury. This is effectively a brief, wrap-up statement with a final request by the prosecutor to ask for a conviction and a defense lawyer to ask for an acquittal.
After the closing arguments have been made, the judge will instruct the jury of the appropriate laws and related information needed to deliberate the matter and reach a verdict.
Jury Deliberations & Reaching Verdicts
After being properly instructed by the judge the jury will convene (meet in private) to discuss the case (deliberate). The purpose of the deliberation is for the jury to arrive at a verdict.
During deliberation the jury is to be isolated from outside influences including prosecutors, lawyers, news stories, etc.
If, during deliberation, the jury has legal or process questions they are allowed to send a note to the judge seeking clarification. The judge will read aloud the question with all parties present, and the jury will resume deliberation.
When the jury reaches a verdict the judge is notified. Next, the judge, prosecutor, defense counsel with the defendant will be present in court as the verdict is announced.
Upon the Verdict Being Read
Upon announcing the verdict, one of two outcomes will occur.
Verdict of Guilty. If found guilty, the defendant will immediately be taken into custody and transferred to begin processing into the correctional system. If the defendant is found guilty, but given probation, there will need to be follow-up work done by the probation officers with the convicted person and their lawyer.
Verdict of Not-Guilty. If found not-guilty, the defendant is released form any level of custody or official supervision, and is free to leave the court and return to a normal life.