A criminal trail is when the government, either the state or federal, brings a case against the accused that details the alleged charges against the defendant. Most commonly, a plea bargain will be made before trial, often sparing the government the cost of trial, and possibly giving the defendant a more favorable sentence. For those that do go to trial, it is usually a jury of his or her peers that will decide upon guilt or innocence.

In criminal law, it must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime. This burden of proof standard is much higher than in civil law. There are rules, called sentencing guidelines, by which the court will follow in determining the sentence of a defendant. In more serious cases, probation and parole will also be a part of the sentence for convicted individuals.

Who Decides the Outcome of a Criminal Trial?

Most commonly, a criminal trial will be decided by a jury who is pulled from the community. Juries act as the finder of fact by listening to both the prosecution and the defense, and how persuasive the evidence is for both sides. In jury trials, the judge handles questions of law while the jury handles questions of fact.

Trials can also be decided by a judge, but these are most commonly associated with civil law. A bench trial may be requested by a criminal defendant, in which case the judge will be responsible for coming to a verdict on questions of both law and fact. Sometimes there is a benefit to a bench trial over a jury trial, like when the case is emotionally charged and the public opinion is overwhelmingly against the defendant’s favor. Even though the jury is meant to listen to the case on its merits, sometimes it is too difficult for them to ignore outside influences.

What Does a Criminal Trial Consist of?

There are several phases of a criminal trial, and are as follows:

  • Jury selection;
  • Opening statements;
  • Witness testimony;
  • Closing arguments;
  • Jury instructions;
  • Jury deliberation; and
  • Verdict.

Once the verdict is in, the trial is over, and the sentencing phase can begin. The court will then determine a suitable sentence for the defendant; those convicted of a crime may appeal the conviction by asking a higher court to review their case.

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

If the defense disagrees with the results of the trial, they can make an appeal to a higher court. If the defendant was found not guilty, and the prosecution
disagrees, they are out of luck. Citizens are protected by the Double Jeopardy Clause under the 5th Amendment from being tried twice for the same crime. However, if serious errors were made within the trial that led to an unfair result, or new evidence has come to light, a judge may order the case to be retried in the interest of justice.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Criminal Trial?

While it is possible to defend yourself in a criminal trial, it is not recommended. It is also possible to receive a court appointed lawyer, however many legal justice systems are overrun with cases and too few lawyers on staff. If you want to ensure the best possible outcome for your case, contacting a local criminal lawyer is your best chance. Do not let a simple mistake like not hiring a private attorney result in you facing a wrongful conviction.