Steps in a Criminal Trial

A criminal defendant must be present at his trial. A person accused of a crime cannot be convicted in absentia. If a defendant is not present, the trial must be postponed. A criminal trial typically proceeds as follows:

1. The jury pool is seated and each side begins picking members of the jury.

2. The jury is sworn in by the judge.

3. The prosecution gives its opening statement, explaining the defendant's alleged crimes to the jury and the basis for charging him, describing the evidence it will offer and discussing the determination of guilt or innocence that the jury must make.

4. If he chooses, the defendant's attorney makes his opening statement.

5. The court orders the prosecution to proceed with its case by calling witnesses.

6. Each witness is sworn in, questioned by the prosecutor and cross-examined by the defense. The defense is under no obligation to cross-examine prosecution witness.

7. Some witnesses will identify certain documents and records, such as crime scene photographs, which will be introduced into evidence and shown to the jury.

8. The prosecution concludes it cases by "closing." Once the case is closed, the prosecution is prohibited from "opening" it again by offering additional proof, evidence or testimony, other than rebuttal evidence that contradicts the defense's case.

9. The court asks the defense to proceed with its case. However, since no defendant is required to prove his innocence, it is not uncommon for defense counsel to choose not to call witnesses, nor offer evidence. The case for reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt is most often made through cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.

10. The defense rests and can make a closing argument at that time.

11. The prosecutor makes her closing argument.

12. The judge instructs or "charges" the jury, explaining its duties in determining guilt or innocence.

13. The jury returns a verdict, which is read by the judge or court clerk. In some instances the jury cannot make a decision, in which case, a mistrial occurs and the case will have to be tried again.

14. If acquitted, the defendant is released and free to go at the moment of acquittal.

15. If convicted, the defendant remains in custody and is then sentenced by the judge or jury. Sentencing may be immediate or it may be part of a separate legal procedure, depending on the state.

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We would also like to set some optional cookies. We won't set these optional cookies unless you enable them. Please choose whether this site may use optional cookies by selecting 'On' or 'Off' for each category below. Using this tool will set a cookie on your device to remember your preferences.

For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our Cookie notice.

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Performance cookies

We'd like to set cookies to help us to improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. For more information on these cookies, please see our cookie notice. The cookies collect information in an anonymous form. Data is only used in aggregate.

Functionality cookies

We'd like to set cookies to provide you with a better customer experience. For more information on these cookies, please see our cookie notice.