The 6 Steps of a Criminal Trial - The Chicago Criminal Law Blog

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The 6 Steps of a Criminal Trial

If you are arrested for a crime in Illinois, you will probably want to familiarize yourself with the steps involved in a criminal trial.

In general, the purpose of a trial is for the jury to examine the evidence and determine whether, "beyond a reasonable doubt," you committed the crime. As you may know, you are innocent until proven guilty, and the burden is on the government to prove that you committed the crime.

A complete criminal trial usually consists of six main phases. Here is a look at each one:

  1. Choosing a Jury. During jury selection, the judge and the attorneys will question a pool of potential jurors about matters related to the case such as ideological beliefs, life experiences, and other biases. Some potential jury members may be excused, others may be excluded by the attorneys.

  2. Opening Statements. The first dialogue at the trial comes in the form of the opening statements. Both the prosecutor and the defense will have an opportunity to make an opening statement. The opening statement typically consists of the facts of the case and a guide for the jury as to what the attorney hopes to show.

  3. Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination. During the trial, each side will present evidence and witnesses. The other side will have an opportunity to rebut the evidence or cross-examine the witnesses. After both the prosecution and defense have had an opportunity to present their cases and to challenge the evidence presented by the other, both sides "rest."

  4. Closing Arguments. Like the opening statement, the closing argument is a chance for both sides to sum up their case. This is the final opportunity for the parties to address the jury.

  5. Jury Instruction. After closing arguments have concluded, the judge gives the jury a set of legal standards it will need to make its decision. Based on the criminal charges, the judge will decide what legal standards apply. The judge will also explain what it means to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

  6. Jury Deliberation and Verdict. The jury as a group will consider the case during deliberation. This process can last several hours or several weeks. In Illinois, the jury must reach an unanimous finding of guilty for you to be convicted.

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