The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides the right of protection from being prosecuted or punished without first being given “due process” of the law. The various stages of a criminal trial in the American system of criminal justice are designed to fulfill the requirement of “due process”. These stages include the initiation of a trial, the selection of a jury, opening statements by the prosecution and defense, the presentation of evidence by the prosecution and defense, closing arguments, the presiding Judge’s charge to the jury, deliberations of the jury, and finally, the reading of the verdict.(Schmalleger, Ph.D., Frank. 2011, p. 351)
The first stage of a criminal trial in the American system of criminal justice is trial initiation. Per the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a defendant has a right to a speedy trial in all criminal prosecutions. The right for a speedy trial prevents an accused person from being detained for an indefinite amount of time while waiting for a trial to begin. Also, per the Sixth Amendment, a defendant has a right to a trial judged by a jury of his or her peers. If the case against a defendant goes to trial, the prosecution team and the defense team have an opportunity to state their case and present evidence and or witness testimony. The burden of proof is on the prosecution team, this means convincing the jury through strong opening statements that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged and presenting the evidence to support those statements. For the defense team, this means presenting evidence and statements to the contrary. The jury, consisting of a sworn body of people, will give a verdict at the end of the trial, of guilty or innocent based on their belief in the evidence and facts as presented.
At the jury selection stage, potential jurors are asked a series of questions about their moral background and beliefs and about their familiarity about the events of case. Based on the answers provided, some people will be excluded from the jury pool for non-discriminatory reasons only. Once the pool of jurors is selected, the trial begins with opening statements from both the prosecution team and the defense team. The prosecution team gives the first opening statement to present the facts of the accusation in which the prosecution is trying to prove. The defense, then has an opportunity to rebut the accusations with their own opening statement thereby using any legal defense available against the crime charged.
During the presentation of evidence by the prosecution and defense, each side is given a chance to presentkeyevidence to the jury. The mission of the prosecution team is to convince the jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused defendant is guilty of the charged crime, and that the evidence proves the facts as presented. The mission of the defense team is to present its own evidence in attempt to disprove, discredit, or challenge those claims made by the prosecution.
The closing argument stage is to allow the prosecution and the defense an opportunity to “sum up” their case and offers one more chance at persuading the jury. At this point, the prosecution has one final chance to convince the jury why the evidence proves the defendant guilty. Likewise, closing arguments also allows one final chance for the defense team cast doubt on the evidence and to point out how the prosecution team failed to meet the standards of “beyond a reasonable” in proving the defendant’s guilt.
After closing arguments comes the judge’s charge to the jury. This step consists of the presiding judge, presenting to the jury, a set of legal standards needed to make the decision between not guilty or guilty. The judge’s comments might also include information such as an explanation of the charges, expectations of jury conduct during deliberations, an even the concept of “reasonable doubt.”
The final two stages of the criminal trial are the jury deliberations and the reading of the verdict. Jury deliberation takes place when the jury meets to discuss and consider the facts and evidence presented at the trial. The purpose of jury deliberations is for the jurors to reach an agreement as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Sometimes jury deliberations continue until a majority opinion is reached; other times the jury becomes deadlocked in disagreement. As a result, jury deliberations can be short or lengthy. Once a verdict is reached based on the consensus of the jury, the judge will read the verdict before the court.