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What happens in a criminal trial?

Most criminal defense attorneys would probably be able to tell our Fresno readers that the vast majority of criminal cases throughout the country are resolved by way of plea agreements. It is mostly a matter of limited resources, in that prosecutors simply do not have the time to take every case to criminal trial, and thus they offer many criminal defendants a chance to plead to lesser charges and more limited penalties. Of course, this happens less often with the most serious cases, such as murder cases, but most of the time there is at least some negotiation between the defense attorney and the prosecutor on a possible plea deal.

However, in many cases the best option for a criminal defendant is to fight their case and take it to trial. This can be an intimidating option for many people though, because they have one fundamental question: What happens in a criminal trial?

First, if the case is to be heard before a jury, the jury must be selected. This can be a time consuming task, as both the defense attorney and the prosecutor attempt to pick jurors whom they believe will have the ability to be impartial and weigh the evidence correctly.

As the trial begins, both the prosecution and the defense have an opportunity to make an opening statement. Then the prosecution will present their case against the defendant, calling witnesses and seeking to gain the admission of evidence to prove their case. After that, the defendant can proceed with the defense case, also calling witnesses and presenting evidence for admission. After all of the evidence has been presented by both sides, each attorney will make a closing statement. From there, the decision lies with the jury to make a decision in the case, usually either guilty or not guilty.

Source:, "How Criminal Cases Work," accessed on Jan. 24, 2015

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