Felony trials are conducted in Circuit Court. Defendants can elect to have a jury trial or a bench trial. In jury trials, verdicts are rendered by 12 jurors. In bench trials, the presiding judge renders the verdict.
Verdicts are based on the testimony of witnesses and evidence presented according to our state law.
Trials follow a certain procedure. Features of a criminal trial include:
Opening Statements: Prosecutors and defense attorneys outline the evidence they expect to be present during the trial.
State's Case: The prosecutor on behalf of the State presents evidence against the defendant. In criminal cases, the burden is on the State to prove the defendant guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.
Defendant's Case: After the State rests its case, the defense attorney may present evidence and witnesses. Defendants are not required to testify on their own behalf.
Jury Instructions: At the conclusion of all the evidence, the judge informs the jury of the issues to be decided and the rules of law that apply to the case.
Closing Arguments: Closing arguments are summaries by both sides of the evidence presented during trial from their respective viewpoints.
Jury Deliberations: At the conclusion of the trial, the jury meets to consider the evidence and render a decision.
Jury Verdicts: Jury deliberations are concluded when a unanimous verdict has been reached. When this is done, the jury returns to the courtroom and the jury verdict is announced. If the jury is unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict, the judge will declare a mistrial. Prosecutors can retry cases that end in a mistrial.
Sentencing: After a defendant pleads or is found guilty, a Judge determines the sentence that he or she is to receive, based on the sentencing guidelines.