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Criminal Trials

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What Is Criminal Law?

The criminal law prohibits you from doing certain things.  It is illegal to murder, steal, and drive your car while drunk.  Police enforce the criminal law and the courts provide a place to defend yourself against charges that you broke the law.

Not only does the criminal law make things illegal, it also places limits on trials and police investigations, searches and arrests.  The police must have “probable cause” or believe that a crime has taken place in order to get a warrant, make a search, or an arrest.

What Is a Criminal Trial?

Criminal trials are also part of the criminal law. All evidence at trial must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the person accused actually did the crime. This means that from what the jury has seen and heard in court they could think up with a way that this person did not commit the crime, but that possibility is very unlikely.

The punishment for committing crimes varies from a small fine to imprisonment or death. Each crime has different ways of determining how long you will stay in jail or how much you will have to pay. Also, probation and parole are part of how the criminal law punishes people who actually did the crime.

Who Decides The Outcome of a Criminal Trial?

If there is a dispute of facts, a jury will decide. Dispute of facts typically includes: conflict of witness testimony, creditability of expert testimony, whether the evidence is convincing and defendant’s guilt in committing a crime. 

If there is a dispute of law, a judge will determine the party who is in the legal right. Dispute of law typically includes: admission of evidence, procedural disputes, what constitutes a crime, conduct of the parties, etc.

What Does a Criminal Trial Consist of?

A criminal trial consists of seven phases:

  • Jury selection
  • Opening statements
  • Witness testimony
  • Closing arguments
  • Jury Instruction
  • Verdict
  • Sentencing

What Happens If One of the Parties Are Unsatisfied with the Results of the Trial?

If there were serious errors or mistakes in the original criminal trial, sometimes a judge will order that the case be retried. A criminal retrial might occur for a number of reasons, such as a deadlocked jury.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 09-07-2012 12:21 PM PDT

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