What Are the Steps in a Criminal Trial?

A criminal trial has many parts. Here is a brief overview of the steps of a criminal trial:

Jury selection

The first thing that happens in a criminal trial is that a jury is selected to hear the case. A pool of jurors is called to the courthouse, and then the prosecutor, defense attorney, and the judge ask questions of the jurors in a process called voir dire. Some jurors who cannot judge the case fairly for personal reasons may be dismissed, and others will be dismissed by the parties for other reasons. Ultimately, a jury who will hear the case will be seated, given instructions by the judge, and sworn to perform their duties as jurors.

Opening statements

The prosecutor and the defense attorney will give an opening statement. The opening statement outlines for the jurors the evidence that the attorneys expect will be presented in the case. The defense attorney is allowed to wait until after the prosecutor’s presentation of witnesses before they give their opening statement, but most give their opening statement right after the prosecutor.

Prosecutor’s presentation of witnesses

The prosecutor will then present the testimony of their witnesses. They will call a witness to the witness stand, and then ask them questions in what is called direct examination. Then, the defense attorney will have a chance to question the witness in what is called cross-examination. Depending on the judge, sometimes the prosecutor will be allowed to question the witness again after cross-examination is completed, and the rounds of questioning will continue until the parties are done. Other judges only permit one round of direct and cross examination.

Prosecutor rests

Once the prosecutor is done presenting their witnesses, they will rest their case. Sometimes, at this point, the defense attorney makes a motion for the judge to direct a verdict of not guilty. It is rare for such motions to be granted, however.

Defense presentation of witnesses

The defense will then be given an opportunity to present their witnesses, if they want to produce any. This time, the defense will question first on direct examination, and the prosecutor will question second on cross examination.

Defense rests

The defense will rest after their presentation of witnesses, if they choose to present any evidence at all. Nothing requires the defense to present witnesses.

Closing arguments

The prosecutor and defense attorney will then make closing arguments to the jury. This is an argument summarizing the evidence that was presented and arguing for the result that the party desires from the jury.

Jury instructions

The judge will then instruct the jury about the rules that they must follow in their deliberations, and ask them to go back and deliberate until they reach a verdict.


The jury will then reach a unanimous verdict.

If you have been charged with a crime and are facing a jury trial in a criminal matter, it is important that you contact an experienced criminal lawyer right away.


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