If a defendant's case, whether a misdemeanor or felony charge, is not resolved with a plea deal, or during a preliminary hearing, then the case will head to a trial where the defendant will be either proven guilty or not guilty of the charges brought against them. The trial itself is a different and important process to understand separate from preliminary hearings, motion hearings or pre-trial conferences.
Does every Trial include a Jury?
A trial can either have a jury or a judge decide the case for a defendant. This depends on multiple factors and decisions on both the defense and prosecution side. During a misdemeanor case the defendant can waive their rights to a jury but the prosecutors must also agree to this waiving of their rights. If both sides do not agree, then a jury will have to decide the outcome.
For a felony case, a defendant can also waive their rights to a jury trial. This does not happen very often, but a defendant does have the right to choose this option. Both the prosecution side and defense have to agree on this decision. If they do not then the trial will proceed to a jury trial.
The Trial's Process
Once a jury, or a judge option, has been selected the trial begins. This includes oral arguments made by both the prosecutor(s), which they are called during a criminal case, and the defense council.
Both parties begin with an opening statement. It gives both sides the opportunity to outline details within the case. The prosecutor(s) then present their case, which includes the probable cause for why the charge(s) were brought against the defendant. After, the prosecutor will conduct direct examination with their witnesses, in other words question them, which will account for certain details and accounts of the charge(s) brought against a defendant. The defendant's council will then have the opportunity to cross-examine, in other words, question the prosecutor's witnesses and their accounts or given details on the case.
The same process occurs for the defense council. They will present their case and direct examine their witnesses. This will lead to the prosecuting side to then cross examine those witnesses. The defense council will then “rest”, or finish their case. At this time the prosecution can offer a rebuttal witness, which is a witness that can contradict testimony that was made by the defense councils witnesses.
After both the defense and prosecution is finished making their arguments, and it is a jury trial, the jury is instructed by the judge on the law the charge against the defendant is based on. That law is what the jury must follow when deciding the outcome of the case for the defendant. The same applies for a judge if it is not a jury trial. The jury or judge will then leave to deliberate/decide the outcome of the case.
The jury or judge will then let both parties know the verdict made on the case. This will be when a defendant will either be found not guilty or guilty. The deliberation time can take anywhere from a few hours to an indefinite amount of days, there is never a set amount of time. You just have to wait and see what they decide.