Trial Proceedings

  • Opening Statement: At the beginning of the trial, the ASA makes an opening statement. The defense attorney also may make an opening statement at this time, or immediately after the close of the State’s case-in-chief, but he or she is not required to do so. During the opening statement, the attorney explains to the jury what he or she contends the evidence will show at trial.
  • State’s Case: The State’s case is presented by the State’s Attorney's Office (SAO) and involves the testimony of witnesses and the introduction of photographs, physical objects, and/or records into evidence. The ASA conducts direct examination of his or her witnesses by asking questions of the witnesses relevant to the alleged crime(s). The defense attorney then asks questions of these same witnesses on cross-examination. The ASA then may ask clarifying questions on redirect examination. This process continues until all of the prosecution's witnesses in the State’s case have testified. At the end of the State’s case-in-chief, the defendant may move to dismiss all or certain charges on the theory that the evidence presented by the State is insufficient to prove the defendant guilty of the crime(s) charged.
  • Defense Case: Since the State has the burden of proof in the case, the defendant is not required to present any evidence at all at trial. However, if the defendant chooses to present any evidence, such evidence similarly may consist of calling witnesses to testify, including the defendant electing to testify on his or her own behalf, as well as presenting physical evidence. If defense witnesses are called, the ASA may cross-examine each witness.
  • Rebuttal: In cases in which the defendant chooses to present evidence, the SAO may present a rebuttal case, that is, evidence that contradicts or nullifies the evidence that the defendant has presented in its case. If the ASA presents a rebuttal case, defense counsel may cross-examine the rebuttal witness(es), and the ASA may conduct redirect examination of the rebuttal witness(es).
  • Jury Instructions: After the parties’ presentation of evidence, the judge will instruct the jury on the law, including explaining various legal concepts, such as the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof, and the elements of each crime charged. The jury instructions are agreed upon ahead of time by the judge, prosecution and defense.
  • Closing Argument: The ASA is the first to deliver a summation, or closing argument, to the jury. During the ASA’s closing argument, he or she generally will summarize and explain the significance of the evidence presented, and will affirmatively assert reasons why the jury should find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charged crimes. The defense counsel then follows the State in giving a closing argument on behalf of the defendant. In the defense attorney’s closing argument, he or she will usually question the evidence presented by the ASA and generally try to establish that the case has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Rebuttal Closing: Because the State has the burden to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the State gets the final word by way of a rebuttal closing. In this closing, the State generally responds to questions and issues raised during the defense’s closing arguments. The ASA will often close its summation by asking the jury to return a verdict of guilty on all crimes.
  • Deliberations: Jury deliberations begin after closing arguments have concluded and last until the jury has reached a verdict. During deliberations the jury reviews the evidence introduced at trial. The jury may find the defendant guilty, not guilty, or may be unable to unanimously agree on a verdict. A jury that cannot reach a unanimous verdict is called a “hung jury.” When there is a hung jury, the court will usually declare a mistrial and the State may retry the case. The significance of a not guilty verdict is that the jury has concluded that the State failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. However, it does not necessarily mean that a defendant is actually innocent. SAO can never retry a defendant for the same offenses following a “not guilty,” nor can it appeal the judge or jury’s verdict, due to the principle of double jeopardy under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.