Every year thousands of Florida residents go through the criminal justice system. Some face misdemeanor charges, while others face more serious felony charges. However, regardless of the severity of the charge in any given case, every person who is charged with a criminal offense has rights to protect. One of those rights is the right to a trial in front of one’s peers.
For years, criminal trials have been shown as dramatic, cinematic events in television shows and movies. But, for as much entertainment as a person may get out of a fictionalized version of a criminal trial, the reality is quite different. Put bluntly, someone’s freedom is on the line, and there is nothing sensational about it.
A criminal trial begins with selecting the members of the jury, unless the trial is a “bench trial,” which means that it is only in front of the judge. The jury selection process can be the most important part of the whole criminal trial process, as it is important to select jury members who can be unbiased and remember that a criminal defendant, as charged, is innocent until proven guilty.
Once the trial begins, both the prosecution and defense will give opening statements, giving the jury an overview of the case. After that, witness testimony and the presentation of evidence will begin. It is the prosecution’s burden to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” so the prosecution goes first. Once all evidence has been put forth, the prosecution and defense will make closing statements, which are the last chance to persuade the jury about the evidence that was submitted. Once closing statements are concluded, the jury will receive instructions, return to the jury room to deliberate and, ultimately, return a verdict in the case.