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General Court Procedures

The Process of Trials for Criminal Cases

Depending on the plea of the defendant, a trial may or may not take place.  Trials consist of procedures that the defendant should be aware of: opening statements, presentation of evidence, and closing arguments.  Criminal cases involve the commission of acts that are prohibited by law and are punishable by probation, fines, imprisonment, or even death. The attorney representing the state, county, or municipal government that formally accuses a person of committing a crime is the prosecutor.  The person charged with the crime is the defendant.  The judge not only ensures that the rights of the defendant are respected, but also the Constitutional provision and the statutorily required rights afforded to the victims of crime.

  • Opening statements - The defendant has the right to a trial in which either a jury or the judge determines guilt.  When the court is ready for the trial to begin, each side can make an opening statement.  In a criminal case, the prosecuting attorney speaks first.
    • The prosecuting attorney gives an overview of the facts that will be presented.  The defense may present the same type of opening comment or may save the opening statement until later in the trial when that side of the case begins.  Either side may decide not to give an opening statement.
  • Witnesses - The prosecution begins the case by calling witnesses and asking them questions in a direct examination.  Trial evidence, including testimony and physical evidence, such as documents, weapons, articles of clothing, etc
  • Closing arguments - After the prosecution and the defense have presented all of their evidence, each side may make closing arguments.  Closing arguments provide an opportunity for the defense and prosecution to address the judge or the jury a final time.  The prosecutor speaks first, usually summarizing the evidence that has been presented and highlighting items most beneficial to the prosecution.  The defendant or the attorney for the defendant speaks next.  The defense usually summarizes the strongest points of the case and points out flaws in the case of the prosecution.  The prosecutor then has one last opportunity to speak.

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