The Criminal Trial Process
Approximately 40,000 criminal cases are filed in Maricopa County each year. These charges can include misdemeanor or felony (Aggravated) DUI, domestic violence, assault, weapons charges, sex crimes, drug and marijuana offenses and homicide or murder. Statistics show that 95% or more of theses case are resolved by a plea agreement, some type of diversion program or dismissal. The remaining 5% will proceed to trial.
The Trial Experience
Undoubtedly, the lack of certainty concerning an outcome is what causes the greatest anxiety for people who are charged with a crime in the Phoenix area and choose to "go to trial." A dismissal of charges automatically sets someone free. Successful completion of a diversion program will ensure that charges are ultimately dropped. Plea agreements are contracts which guarantee you a specific consequence. There are many questions surrounding trials however. These include but are not limited to:
- Will witnesses appear as required?
- Will the prosecutor offer me a last minute deal?
- Will I be found guilty or innocent?
- If found guilty, what will be my sentence?
I have represented many clients who've have chosen to go to trial in various criminal cases throughout Phoenix in the last twenty years. Charges have included:
- Aggravated and misdemeanor DUI
- Domestic Violence
- Motor Vehicle Theft
- Aggravated Assault
- Drug Possession and Drug Sales
- Armed Robbery
Surely, trial is an anxiety causing experience for the attorney and the client. The attorney is under extreme pressure to obtain the most favorable result possible, knowing his client's freedom is at stake. The client is saddled with questions about his future, family's well being, potential of prison time, etc.
After all of the preparation and pre-trial hearings, the moment of truth arises. Tensions rise, last minute issues are addressed, you begin to question your case and the trial begins. There are a number of steps involved in a criminal jury trial in Arizona. They are:
- Jury Selection - During this phase, members of the community are questioned by the judge and lawyers to determine if they are appropriate candidates to judge the case. The lawyers are searching for people who can be impartial, free from any bias or prejudice and able to judge the evidence and make a decision based on what is presented in court. Jurors can be comprised of six, eight or twelve people depending upon the type of criminal case and the court in which the trial is being held.
- Opening Statements - Here, the prosecutor and defense attorney will have an opportunity to give the jury an overview of their case. They may summarize what they expect the evidence to be at trial, speak about the law and explain how the law and the evidence will apply to their respective cases.
- Presentation of Evidence - This is the bulk of the trial. During this process, witnesses such as police officers, crime scene specialists, crime lab personnel, civilian witnesses, etc. will be called to testify. Physical evidence such as weapons, clothing, photographs, and fingerprints will be introduced. The prosecutor gets to present their case first. Once they are finished, the defense can present their case if they choose. Remember, because the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, a defendant is not obligated to testify, call any witnesses or present evidence. When witnesses are called to testify, they are first questioned by the party who introduces them. This is called direct examination. The opponent then gets to question them as well. This is referred to as cross-examination.
- Jury Instructions - Once the presentation of evidence is finished, the judge will instruct the jury on the applicable law, their duties and how they should deliberate.
- Closing Statements - Again, both the prosecutor and defense attorney have an opportunity to summarize the evidence and argue why a defendant in a criminal case should be found guilty or not guilty.
- Deliberations and Verdict - After closing statements, the jury will be directed to a solitary room to discuss the case amongst themselves. They will signal to the judge when they have reached a verdict and it will then be announced in court.
Criminal trials in real life are very different from what you might see on TV. Certainly, trials don't occur soon after someone is arrested. There is usually a long delay so a case can be investigated and the parties can attempt to negotiate a plea bargain. Also, trials usually take a minimum of several days to several months based on the nature of the charges, number of witnesses and scheduling conflicts. Finally, there are normally no surprise witnesses or evidence. Each side must disclose well in advance of trial who they will be calling as a witness and what evidence will be introduced.
If you have been charged with a crime in Arizona, contact my office at (480) 833-8613 for a free and immediate consultation. I have represented thousands of individuals during the last twenty years who have been charged with offenses ranging from DUI and drug offenses to aggravated assault and homicide. I have also conducted a number of jury trials in the city, justice and superior courts throughout Maricopa County.