If you have recently been arrested for a violent crime or other felony, you may be facing one of the longest, most stressful periods of your life. You have decisions to make, including whether you will plead guilty to the charges or exercise your right to a jury trial.
Before making any decisions, you would be wise to obtain the advice of a criminal defense attorney. Your legal advisor may suggest it is in your best interests to accept a plea deal or may advise you to go to trial. If you are heading to trial, you will be better prepared if you understand the process and what you can expect during each phase.
Building your case
Once you have a trial date on the court's calendar, the first step will be selecting members of the jury. Citizens from New Jersey will respond to summonses, and your lawyer and the prosecutor will have a chance to question them to reveal any biases. Each lawyer can request the exclusion of a certain number of jurors from the pool until they have agreed upon 12 jurors to hear your case. When jury selection is over, the trial proceeds as follows:
- Each attorney presents an opening statement providing the jury with an overview of the case and an explanation of how he or she intends to prove your guilt or innocence.
- The prosecutor will present its case against you, showing the jury the evidence investigators gathered and calling witnesses to testify.
- Each witness takes an oath to tell the truth and answers questions the prosecutor asks about the case.
- When the prosecutor has finished asking questions of the witness, your attorney may question the witness to reveal the weaknesses in his or her testimony.
- When the prosecutor has finished questioning all the witnesses against you, your attorney will call to the stand the witnesses on your behalf. The questioning for these witnesses follows the same pattern as for the prosecution witnesses.
- After the attorneys have presented all the evidence for both sides, they will each give their closing statements to summarize their cases for the jury.
- The judge will then explain to the jury the legal standards they will use to weigh the evidence and make their decision.
The jury will go to another room where they will review the evidence and discuss the case until they reach a verdict. This may take hours, days or even longer, and your future depends on their decision. Understanding how much hinges on the steps of your trial, you can understand how important it is to have quality legal representation from the earliest moments.