What Happens at the Trial?


A trial is the “fact-finding” phase of a case and is held to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. It is the prosecution’s burden to prove the client’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A defendant is not required to prove his innocence, present any evidence nor call or cross-examine witnesses and has the right to decide whether to testify. There are two types of trials: bench and jury. In a bench trial the judge decides issues of fact without a jury, while in a jury trial, jurors resolve disputed facts.

Bench Trial

A bench trial in criminal court can only occur when the prosecution and the defense agree. In a bench trial, there is no jury because the judge is the fact finder. The judge hears opening statements, the presentation of evidence and closing arguments, and then decides whether a crime has been committed and whether the client is criminally responsible as charged.

Jury Trial

A jury trial is where a judge presides, and six or twelve eligible Miami-Dade County residents are selected to hear the case and make a finding of guilt or innocence. The jury, not the judge, is the fact finder. During jury selection the judge, prosecutor and defense attorney question prospective jurors and then select the jury. The trial begins when the jury is sworn. Although every trial is different, there are specific elements that make up the proceeding.

A jury trial starts with opening statements from one or both sides. Opening statements tell the jury what both sides expect the evidence will show. The prosecution must call witnesses to testify and/or introduce physical evidence because it has the burden of proving the case. The defense attorney may cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses and challenge its evidence. After the prosecution presents its evidence, the defense attorney may ask the judge to dismiss the case (motion for a judgment of acquittal) because the prosecutor did not present enough evidence to show that the client committed the crime for which he was charged. If the judge grants the motion, the case is over. If the judge denies the motion, the defense attorney may call defense witnesses and introduce evidence.

Because the State has the burden to prove that the person committed the crime, the defense does not have to present its own case. The client may testify or choose not to testify. After all evidence is presented, each side presents closing arguments to the jury. The judge then instructs the jury regarding the laws and rules that they must consider during their deliberation. The jury meets alone to review and discuss the admissible evidence until they reach a unanimous decision (verdict). If the jury cannot unanimously decide, the judge can declare a mistrial (hung jury). If a mistrial is declared, the judge may reschedule a new trial for a later date. If the jury finds the client guilty, it is then up to the judge to proceed to decide the sentence to be imposed. In death penalty cases, the jurors also participate in the sentencing phase. The jurors are presented evidence and arguments so they can make a recommendation to the judge to impose the death penalty or to sentence to life imprisonment.


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