Criminal Trial

 If the resulting jury consists entirely of a different gender, race, or social class, that alone does not generally violate the defendant's constitutional right. The prosecuting attorney and defense counsel select a jury from the randomly selected pool of citizens.

Navigating the criminal justice system with its many judicial proceedings is confusing without a roadmap. Anyone involved in criminal proceedings should understand their constitutional protections, including their right to due process.

Below, you'll find an overview of three common protections provided in the U.S. Constitution, including:

The road to a criminal trial begins after a defendant is formally charged with a crime. The case proceeds to the pretrial phase and concludes with a criminal trial unless the defendant enters a guilty plea.

The Right to Counsel

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to appointment of counsel regardless of ability to pay. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified that this Sixth Amendment right also applies to state prosecutions for felonies, not just federal prosecutions.

The Supreme Court handed down this decision in Gideon v. WainwrightThis case underscored the inadequacies of self-representation and the importance of indigent defendants (those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer) to have effective assistance from court-appointed counsel.

In 1972, the Supreme Court further clarified in Argersinger v. Hamlin that the right to counsel also applies to misdemeanors that carry the possibility of imprisonment.

The right to assistance of counsel attaches to all critical stages of a criminal prosecution, including but not limited to the following:

  • Custodial interrogations
  • Arraignment
  • Preliminary hearing
  • Lineups and show-ups
  • Appeals
  • Juvenile delinquency

Learn more about who's entitled to a court-appointed attorney, the kinds of proceedings that trigger the right to counsel, and situations in which invoking the right to counsel can help protect your rights.

The Right Against Self-Incrimination

A common phrase in the defense system is "pleading the Fifth." This is familiar if you have watched many movies or television shows that take place in a courtroom. This refers to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which says that no person can be compelled to testify against themselves. A criminal defendant can refuse to answer a question that will implicate them in a crime.

In practice, the right is more complicated than depicted on TV. Most people know the right to remain silent, commonly called Miranda rights. The Miranda warning also informs suspects of their rights to an attorney.

However, like the right to counsel, criminal suspects must invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. This means law enforcement will assume waiver of the rights unless a defendant specifically asks for an attorney or expresses their wish to remain silent.

Learn about the Fifth Amendment's history, its use in legal proceedings, and other situations where the right might not apply.

The Right to Trial by a Jury of Peers

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury. A jury of peers does not imply that the jury will include a member resembling the accused. Jurors get selected randomly from the community.

Before the trial court can commence, the parties participate in jury selection. The jury pool will begin with about 100 potential jurors. Through elimination, the final number of jurors gets reduced to 12 with two or three alternates.

Once the jury is set, typically, criminal case trials proceed as follows:

  • Parties make their opening statements
  • Present evidence
  • Call witnesses to the stand for testimony
  • Cross-examine witnesses
  • Counsel make their closing arguments

The jury then deliberates for as long as it takes to reach a verdict. Learn more about the history of trials by jury, the process for selection, permitted and forbidden jury challenges, and other issues that impact jury selection.

The Insanity Defense

Nearly every crime has, as part of the elements for conviction, a state of mind that the person committing the crime must have had. The state of mind ranges from intentional to negligent or reckless.

Someone with a mental illness may commit acts involuntarily without understanding the impact of their actions. Alternatively, someone with a mental disability may act under the mistaken belief that something else is happening and is, therefore, not responsible for their actions. The ability to prove intent is often the turning point in criminal trials.

Despite what's on television, the insanity defense is not often used. However, states have a wide range of tests and rules to determine a criminal defendant's culpability under the insanity defense. The following tests apply differently from state to state:

Learn more about the insanity defense, its admissibility, and the logic and application of the many tests and rules for legal insanity.

Contact a Defense Attorney To Discuss Your Case

Navigating state or federal court as a criminal defendant is overwhelming. A lawyer can explore the nuances in your case to negotiate a plea bargain for your criminal charges. Additionally, a lawyer can review whether any of your constitutional rights were violated. For example, whether the police ignored your defendant's right to counsel. Find a lawyer near you who can help.

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