If you find yourself the defendant in a criminal prosecution, you will need to make many decisions over the course of your case. Hopefully, you will not make those decisions without the benefit of consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney first. Ultimately, however, some of the most important decisions that must be made are yours to make, including the decision to exercise, or waive, your right to a trial by jury. Given how much may ride on the outcome of your decision, it is one that should only be made after learning all you can about your options and then contemplating them sufficiently. To help you in that regard, a Nebraska criminal defense lawyer explains a jury trial.
Your Right to a Trial by Jury
As an accused in a criminal prosecution you have a number of important rights and privileges that are guaranteed to you by the U.S. Constitution, most of which are found within the first ten Amendments, collectively known as the “Bill of Rights.” Your right to a trial by jury is located in the 6th Amendment, and reads as follows:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Your constitutional right to a trial by jury, like many other constitutional rights, is yours without question; however, if you must make the decision to exercise that right or waive it.
Alternatives to Taking Your Case to Jury Trial
Although your right to have your fate decided by a jury applies to everyone in the U.S., many of the procedures related to a jury trial are governed by state law. In most states, when a defendant is charged with a serious crime (usually any felony) it is presumed that the case will be tried by a jury unless the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waives the right to a trial by jury. For less serious crimes (misdemeanors), a defendant may have to proactively request a jury trial within a certain amount of time after being formally charged by the State.
If you do not want a jury to decide the issue of guilt, you may wish to waive your right to trial by jury and set your case for a bench trial, also referred to as a trial by judge. In essence, a bench trial is the same as a jury trial but a judge renders the verdict at the end instead of a jury.
If you wish to avoid a trial of any kind, you may decide to enter into a guilty plea agreement negotiated on your behalf by your defense attorney. In some cases, you might also be eligible to enter into a diversion program and avoid a conviction altogether.
What Happens at a Jury Trial?
Although no two jury trials are exactly the same because each case involves a unique set of facts, the steps involved in all jury trials are essentially the same, including:
- Selecting the jury. Potential jury members are chosen at random from the state’s drive’s license lists. Through the process known as “voir dire,” the final jury will be selected.
- Opening statements. Both the prosecution and defense may make an opening statement that tells the jury what they intend to prove over the course of the trial. Think of this as a preview, or a “coming attractions.”
- Presentation of the State’s case in chief. Because the State bears the burden of proving an accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the State always presents its evidence and witnesses first. The defense may cross-examine any State witness and/or object to the introduction of any State’s evidence.
- The defendant’s turn. Because the State bears the burden of proof, the defense is not required to put on any defense at all; however, if the defense does wish to present witnesses or evidence now is when that occurs. The State may cross-examine any defense witness and/or object to the introduction of any defense evidence.
- Closing statements. Both sides wrap up their case and have one last opportunity to sway the jury members.
- Jury deliberation. The judge instructs the jury and hands them the case. They leave the courtroom to deliberate. To convict, it must be a unanimous decision, meaning all jury members must agree that the defendant is guilty of the charge(s) against him/her.
- Verdict and sentencing (if applicable). When the jury is ready, they return to the courtroom and hand the judge their verdict. The judge then reads the verdict to the courtroom. If the verdict is not guilty, the case is over and the defendant is free to leave. If the verdict is guilty, the judge may move to sentencing immediately if the charge is minor; however, typically a sentencing date is set and a pre-sentence investigation ordered first.
Contact a Nebraska Criminal Defense Lawyer at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a crime in the State of Nebraska, consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.