Under California law, persons charged with a misdemeanor and/or felony offense are entitled to a jury trial. After the entry of a not guilty plea, a jury trial is the next major step the case undertakes. This is a process wherein twelve members of the community (a jury of peers) would hear the case, review all the evidence presented and then decide on whether the individual is guilty or not guilty of the charges made.
This jury of peers would represent a cross-section of the community where the crime is committed. Unless some compelling reason arises, the case would be heard in another community. To be convicted, all the twelve members of the jury must agree unanimously that the accused committed the crime being charged.
There are several phases that the jury trial is broken down. Each step has its individual group of rules and regulations. This process continues as follows:
a) Selection of Jury Members. At this step, members of the jury are picked from members of the community that are qualified to vote without any past criminal convictions. At this point, both prosecution and defense would ask possible jury members to be part of the jury. Both defense and prosecution must agree to the jury member to become part of the process. In objecting to the choice, the objecting party needs to signify this objection and offer a pre-emptory challenge upon the juror’s appointment.
b) Opening Statements. Here, the lawyers would formally address the jury and the judge as to the expectations regarding the case. This is often the part where lawyers would provide insight into their theory of the case, with much flair on the part of the counsel.
c) Presentation of evidence. Here, the parties would introduce evidence to assist the court in determining the guilt or innocence of the accused. These may be in the form of testimonial evidence, written evidence as well as physical evidence. The other party would be allowed to cross-examine the evidence presented. Impeachment of the validity of evidence presented would determine the balance of the case.
d) Closing Arguments. Here, the lawyers for both prosecution and defense would recap their theory of the case. Here, the defense goes first with its summary, then the prosecution reiterates its theory. The defense has the option to rebut the arguments to close the case.
e) Jury Deliberation. At this point, the case for both parties have been presented and then the jury is then sequestered for them to discuss amongst themselves to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused and to reach a unanimous decision. They can ask clarificatory questions, review specific testimony or evidence and discuss amongst themselves. The jury must decide based on the advisory provided them, the presented evidence and their own experiences. They are prohibited from discussing the case outside the jury room during these deliberations.
f) Reading of the Verdict. Here, the elected foreperson of the jury would be asked by the judge as to the decision reached. This may be a finding of guilt when all of the jurors agree, a verdict of not guilty by agreement of all the jurors, resulting in dismissal of the case or when there is no unanimity in the jury. This latter instance is called a hung jury resulting in a mistrial. When the finding is guilty as charged, then the case goes to sentencing. When there is a mistrial, a new set of jurors need to be selected for a new trial.
g) Sentencing. At sentencing, the parties would then provide the judge with pleadings to assist the judge on the sentence imposable. After review of these pleadings, then the judge would impose the proper penalties imposable for the crime committed.
The jury trial is a serious legal activity in California. Should you be or know anyone undergoing this process, do reach out to the lawyers at the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis for a free consultation today.