In California, anyone who is charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony offense is entitled to a trial by jury. The defendant can choose to have a jury trial, in which case twelve people from the community will be chosen to sit as jurors in the case. Otherwise, a judge will hear the case and render a verdict.
There are typically six (and possibly seven) phases in a California criminal trial. They include jury selection, opening statements, evidence, closing arguments, jury deliberations, and verdict. If the defendant is found guilty, then a seventh and final phase, sentencing, will occur.
During jury selection, the jury will be picked. Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor will have the opportunity ask prospective jury members questions. Each side has the ability to dismiss a certain number of jurors from the pool (as long as they are not dismissed for an illegal reason, such as for their race or religion), with the ultimate goal of agreeing on twelve jurors for the trial.
Once a jury has been sworn in, then the opening statements will begin. This is a time for the attorney for each side to give a road map of what to expect during trial. The prosecution gives its opening statement first.
Next, the evidence is presented through witness testimony and the introduction of documents, videos, and other evidence. After each lawyer questions a witness, the other side’s attorney has a chance to cross-examine the witness. The prosecution presents its “case-in-chief” first, followed by the defense.
Once both sides have presented all of their evidence, the attorneys present their closing arguments. This is essentially a recapping of the evidence that was submitted at trial. The prosecution goes first, followed by the defense. The prosecution then has an opportunity to give a short rebuttal.
After closing arguments, the jury (or judge) begins deliberations. These deliberations will continue until a verdict has been reached.
If the jury cannot reach a verdict, it will result in a mistrial, which means that the defendant may be retried, or the case may be dismissed. If the finding is “not guilty,” then the defendant walks free. However, if the defendant is found guilty, then the final phase begins: sentencing.
Anyone convicted of a crime in California is entitled to a sentencing hearing. Both the defense and the prosecution will make an argument about what they think a fair sentence is at this hearing. After hearing these arguments, the judge will issue a sentence.