Will I Have To Go To Trial In My Criminal Case?
The type of criminal charges you face will determine where your trial will occur:
- Federal offenses, like interstate drug trafficking or the distribution of child pornography, are handled in U.S. District Court.
- Felony offenses, like armed robbery, most sex crimes, homicide, financial crimes and felony impaired driving cases are handled in state and federal courthouses, depending on the crime. Some offenses involve specialized courts.
- Misdemeanor offenses, like petty theft will be handled in District Court.
Whether you are representing yourself, are represented by a defense lawyer or have an appointed public defender, the decision whether you will go to trial is always up to you. The Bill of Rights also guarantees you the right to a speedy trial and the assistance of adequate counsel at trial.
When your case is called for trial, both sides will begin with opening statements. The prosecutor goes first, followed by your attorney (the defense) unless the opening was reserved for the end of the prosecution's case in chief. Opening statements are a brief summary of the case each side will present, outlining the witnesses each will call, the evidence each will present and their version of the facts of the case.
The Prosecution's Case In Chief
The U.S. Attorney (federal prosecutor) handling the trial will be the first to call witnesses and put on evidence. Your defense lawyer will have an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution, object to inadmissible statements and otherwise try to raise reasonable doubt in the eyes of the judge or jury. Finally, the prosecutor can re-direct its own witnesses after your attorney questions them.
The Defense (You and Your Lawyer)
Once the prosecution rests, it is common for your attorney to move for dismissal asserting that the prosecution has not proven its case. If the motion is granted, your trial ends and you are free to go. If not, as is often the case, your trial continues, with your attorney calling any witnesses in your defense.
You are not required to put on a defense. You are presumed innocent. It is the job of the federal government to prove your guilt, that you committed the crimes you are charged with.
Both your attorney and the federal government's attorney will have an opportunity to summarize their case for the judge or jury at the close of the defense's case. The prosecutor will go first, followed by your attorney and then the prosecutor will have a chance for rebuttal – essentially to speak again and be the last words heard by the jury.
Jury or Judge Deliberations
If your case is heard by a jury, the judge will instruct the jury on the law that applies to your case based on the instructions agreed upon by the prosecutor and your attorney. The jury will move to the deliberation room to decide the outcome of the case. If a judge is deciding your case (you have a bench trial), the judge will likely retire to his or her chambers to deliberate your fate.
Note: The U.S. Constitution requires a unanimous jury verdict for a criminal conviction. If the jury cannot agree on the outcome of your case, it's a "hung jury," a mistrial. The prosecutor has the option to retry the case, try to reach a negotiated plea or drop the charges against you. If you need help, do not hesitate to call Patrick Roberts at 800-760-9071 to request a consultation. The Roberts Law Group, PLLC is based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
If the judge or jury finds you "not guilty," you have been acquitted of the crimes charged and you are free to go. It is possible to be acquitted of some charges and convicted of others if you were facing multiple counts or multiple offenses.
North Carolina vs. M.W.
Charge: Charge: Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon (4 Counts), First Degree Burglary, Conspiracy to Commit Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon
Facing: 12 - 17 years in prison
An incarcerated defendant accused our client of participating in the robbery of a group of youth at a party. We were able to raise doubt as to the credibility of this individual. In the end, the prosecutor dismissed these charges, citing a lack of evidence.