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Can a murder charge come with a two-part trial?

Murder is the most serious criminal charge a person can face. Cases involving murder charges usually receive the highest level of attention and resources that a prosecuting attorney's office can muster. Many murder cases proceed all the way to a criminal trial, and those trials can sometimes takes days or even weeks to complete. However, how many California residents know that a murder trial can actually include two different phases?

The first phase of a murder trial is what is known as the guilt phase. In this first phase, the burden is on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the criminal defendant did in fact commit the crime. This standard, beyond a reasonable doubt, is probably a standard that most of our readers have heard before and are familiar with. However, what many people may not know is that this standard is actually considered to be a very high bar to meet.

In the guilt phase of a murder trial, the prosecution will present every shred of evidence they have in order to prove the guilt of the defendant. The prosecution will often attempt to plan ahead to rebut a defendant's evidence of innocence, meaning that the prosecution's case can involve testimony from quite a few witnesses, along with all of the items of physical evidence that are needed to attempt to establish guilt.

The second phase of a criminal trial will only occur if the prosecution is successful in establishing the defendant's guilt. The second phase is the penalty phase, and this is when the jury will weigh a variety of factors to determine the defendant's sentence: either life in prison without parole, or death.

Source: California Attorney General's Office, "A Victim's Guide to the Capital Case Process," Accessed Aug. 23, 2015

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