San Diego Trial Attorneys
The trial is where the rubber meets the road. It is the most complex type of hearing in a criminal case. It can last days, or even months. In short, the trial is the hearing where each side presents a case to the court and the case is ultimately decided on the merits.
Types of Trials
There are two types of trials; Jury Trial and Bench Trial.
A Jury Trial is where a panel of twelve individuals from the community listen to the evidence and decide whether or not the defendant is Guilty or Not Guilty of the charges and allegations and render an appropriate Verdict. If there are conflicting facts presented by each side (e.g., one witness says the defendant was wearing a blue shirt and another says it was a white shirt), the jury must resolve the factual dispute when rendering its verdict.
In a Bench Trial, aka, Judge Trial, there is no jury. The judge renders the Verdict, and in doing so, resolves all factual disputes in the evidence.
Role of the Judge
In a Jury Trial, while the jury resolves factual disputes, the judge resolves only legal disputes. This means that the judge rules on all the attorney’s objections, the admissibility of all evidence, and the requests for special jury instructions.
Stages of Trial
While each trial is unique, they all have the same essential stages. Therefore, the path it will take has some amount of predictability.
The pre-trial conference is the first meeting between the parties and the judge. No jury is present. It is typically conducted in the judge’s chambers, not in the courtroom. The parties discuss with the judge the issues that will be presented at trial, the expected length of the trial, calendaring issues, pre-trial motions, and possible settlement of the case.
Motions in Limine
Motions in Limine are pre-trial objections to expected evidence. For example, the defendant can make a motion to exclude from the jury evidence that he suffered a prior conviction for the same crime years ago. These motions are typically filed in writing and argued before the jury panel is brought up to the courtroom. The defense can use this stage to knock out pieces of the prosecution’s case and ultimately limit what the prosecutor can present to the jury.
Voir Dire (Jury Selection)
Voir dire is where the court and the parties question potential jurors and ultimately decide who will be the 12 members of the jury. When the parties are ready, a jury panel is brought up from the jury lounge. The jury panel varies in size depending on that court’s policy and seating availability, but it is typically 40 to 60 potential jurors. The court and the parties ask each individual jurors questions to determine whether there is any bias and to evaluate each individual’s competency to handle the issues that will be presented at trial. Through the use of “for cause” and “peremptory challenges”, the panel is whittled down to the final jury which consists of 12 jurors and 2 to 4 alternates.
Voir Dire is an opportunity for the defendant to find jurors that will be open to the ideas that he is presenting over the course of the trial. It is of utmost importance that the defense win this part of the trial so that he has a jury that is friendly to his side.
Opening Statements are given prior to any witness testimony. Each attorney is given an opportunity to tell the jury what they expect the evidence will show and make an initial case for their vote. The main difference between opening statement and closing statement is that the attorneys are not allowed to make arguments based on evidence in the opening. They can only make arguments based on what they think the evidence will show.
The prosecution gets to present its case first. They do this by calling witnesses to the witness stand and asking those witnesses questions. This is called Direct Examination. They can call as many witnesses they think they need to prove their case, subject to the rules of evidence. When the prosecution is done direct examining a given witness, the defense now gets an opportunity to ask that witnesses more questions to determine the truth of what that witness is saying. This is called Cross Examination. The prosecution always gets a last opportunity to ask questions. This is called Redirect Examination.
A winning trial strategy requires a skilled defense attorney to Cross-Examine the government’s witnesses. Our attorneys are highly experienced and skilled in conducting effective cross-examination of the state’s witnesses.
When the prosecution is done with its case, the defense now can call its witnesses to testify. The rules of questioning witness are the same as for the prosecution’s case. Thus, the defense asks questions first, the prosecution cross-examines those witnesses, and the defense gets the final opportunity to conduct re-direct.
An important decision for the defendant at this stage of the case, is deciding whether he or she will testify in his or her defense. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Before making this decision, the defendant should get sound advice from his skilled criminal defense attorney as to what the are the risks and rewards of testifying.
Closing Statement (Summation)
The summation is each side’s final opportunity to speak to the jury before they make their decision. In closing, the attorneys are allowed to make arguments, allude to evidence presented at trial, and discuss logical inferences flowing from therefrom. A skilled defense attorney must argue to discredit the prosecution’s witnesses, point out missing pieces of the state’s case, and bolster the evidence it put on during the defense’s case.
At the end of closing statements, the judge reads the applicable law to the jury. The judge instructs the jury that they must follow the law when making their decision. The defense has imput on what law is read to the jury. A skilled defense attorney knows how to find the law that supports its side and argue to the judge that such law should be included in the instructions read to the jury. Also, the attorney must successfully object to erroneous or harmful instructions the prosecution asks the court to include.
After closing argument and jury instructions, the jury goes to a secure room directed by the bailiff and discusses the case. Ultimately the have to vote on what the Verdict will be. They are instructed to pick a foreperson, person in charge of directing the discussions. In a criminal case, the verdict must be unanimous. Thus, unless all 12 jurors can agree on Guilty or Not Guilty, the jury is considered hung and the judge declares a mistrial.
Rendering of the Verdict
If all 12 jurors agree on a Verdict, the foreperson fills out and signs a Verdict Form. This form is given to the judge and signed. The clerk then reads the Verdict onto the record. That becomes the official Verdict on the case and the trial ends. If the verdict is Guilty, the judge sets a new hearing called Sentencing. If the Verdict is Not Guilty, the defendant is released and acquitted of the charges.
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A Trial is an opportunity to get an acquittal of all charges and allegations lodged against you. Our attorneys have conducted countless trials on behalf of clients and have earned many outright acquittals.
If you or a loved one have charges that may go to Jury Trial, and would like to discuss it one-on-one with a San Diego Trial Attorney, contact The Hullinger Firm, PC at 619-649-2424 for a free & confidential consultation.
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Scott Hullinger, Esq.
Criminal and Civil Attorney