Every criminal defendant has a right to have their case heard by a jury of their peers. The jury is responsible for hearing the cases of the defense and prosecution and then deciding whether the burden of proof has been met to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Ultimately it is the jury who decides whether the charges a defendant is accused of stick.
Juries are meant to be randomly selected from adult citizens in a local area. Jurors are then assessed for impartiality, demonstrating that they will not be biased towards one side or another. If a juror is not found to be impartial, they can be dismissed “for cause” by the attorneys for either side.
After jury selection, a trial date is set. On the day of the trial’s beginning the jury is impaneled and opening statements are made. The prosecution and defense can both make opening statements at this juncture but the defendant can choose to reserve their opening statement until after the prosecution has made their case.
After opening statements, the prosecution will make their case against the defendant. This will include calling witnesses, presenting evidence, and explaining why the jury should find the defendant guilty. During this phase, the defense will be allowed to cross-examine witnesses. After the prosecution makes their case, the defense may choose to make their case, though if they don’t feel that the prosecution has met their burden, they may instead state as much and move for summary judgment. After the defense makes their case, there will be closing arguments and the jury will be dismissed to deliberate on whether or not the defendant is guilty.
In order to be found guilty, the evidence must be shown to be convincing beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond a reasonable doubt is a very high standard that means that there is no reasonable alternative to the defendant’s guilt. If this bar is not met by the prosecution, then the defendant should not be found guilty.
If the defendant has some reason to believe that the jury was in some way compromised in their trial, then they can appeal their decision to a higher court. If the court of appeals agrees that the jury was in some way compromised, then the results of the trial can be overturned and a new trial may be ordered.