What is a jury trial?
If you’ve been accused of a misdemeanor or felony in San Diego and submit a not guilty plea, you have the right to a trial by jury. A jury is comprised of 12 members of the community who are tasked with hearing the evidence and unanimously determining a defendant’s guilt or innocence. In general, a jury trial goes through a series of 6 phases, ultimately ending with a verdict and possibly a sentence.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will be by your side every step of the way throughout a jury trial. From jury selection to the final verdict, your attorney will work hard to protect your rights and present your best possible defense. If you are charged with a criminal offense in San Diego County, contact the qualified and respected San Diego criminal defense attorney Joni Eisenstein.
Schedule your free consultation today. Contact Criminal Defense Lawyer Joni Eisenstein.
What are the phases of a San Diego jury trial?
Your trial will be decided by a jury of your peers. 12 jurors are chosen from a jury pool that is chosen at random who meet the following criteria:
- A U.S. citizen
- 18 years of age or older
- Speaks and understands English
- Resides within the jurisdiction where the trial takes place
- Does not have a felony conviction while in public office
- Is not on active military duty
- Is not under conservatorship
- Is not currently on another jury
After the initial jury pool is selected, both the prosecutor and the defense attorney have the opportunity to question potential jurors in a process called “voir dire.” Through questioning, both parties begin to narrow down the jury pool to those jurors and alternates that they both deem satisfactory. During “voir dire,” prospective jurors are asked questions about their backgrounds, potential biases and other factors that could make them a less than ideal candidate for the role.
The prosecutor and the defense attorney can dismiss jurors for cause (an implied or explicit bias) or a peremptory challenge (no reason must be supplied for the dismissal.) After both sides have completed their questioning, the judge will officially name the final jury in a process called “impaneling the jury.”
Many defendants are familiar with the opening statement phase of a jury trial since it is often portrayed in television and movies. Opening statements are meant to set the stage for the jury, giving them a preview of what both sides will attempt to show throughout the evidence phase of the trial. No evidence is presented during opening statements.
The prosecution will give their statement first; the defense has the option to give an opening statement, but it is not required. However, in most cases, the defense will offer an opening statement to outline their case before the jury.
The next phase represents the bulk of the trial, where both sides will present evidence including physical evidence and witness testimony. The job of the prosecutor is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He or she must address each element of the charge and demonstrate to the jury that there is ample evidence to support a defendant’s guilt.
When a witness is called to provide testimony, they will be questioned by one side and then cross-examined by the other side. This will continue until there are no further questions for the witness or expert. However, questioning cannot continue unimpeded. Attorneys can only question a witness about issues raised by the other attorney.
After both sides have presented all of their evidence, they will have the opportunity to present closing statements to the jury. Unlike the opening statements, attorneys on both sides can refer to evidence that was presented and summarize how it proves their case. Again, the prosecution will go first, with the defense to follow.
During closing statements, attorneys may address certain issues to make a final impression on the jury including:
- Summary of the law
- Review of the evidence
- Merits of the other side’s case
- Explanation of the concept of “reasonable doubt”
At the conclusion of closing statements, the jury will begin to deliberate the case. A foreperson will lead the jury through the process and help them reach a unanimous decision. This can be a time-consuming process depending on the circumstances of the case, the complexity and length of the evidence phase and the makeup of the jury. Deliberations conclude when the jury has come to a unanimous decision or they have determined that they will be unable to reach a unanimous decision.
The jury trial comes down to this final phase in which the jury will deliver its verdict. The foreperson will be asked to indicate the decision on a verdict form. A guilty or not guilty verdict must be a unanimous decision by the jury. If even one juror does not agree, the case will be called a mistrial. The decision will be read in court in front of the prosecution and the defense.
If the defendant has been found not guilty, he or she is immediately released from custody. If found guilty, the defendant may be placed in custody to await sentencing. During sentencing, both sides will make their cases to the judge as to the type and length of sentence that should be given to the defendant.
Working with a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney
As you can see, the jury trial process requires the skill of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Attorney Joni Eisenstein has over 25 years of experience trying criminal cases in the San Diego courts. She has a comprehensive knowledge of the California legal system and will work diligently to fight for your rights and your freedom.
If you need the best criminal defense attorney in San Diego, contact the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein today to schedule your free consultation.
If you are on the fence about hiring a defense attorney, stop thinking about it, and do it now
Hiring a criminal defense attorney like Joni Eisenstein can help you go from a place of uncertainty to freedom.