After a defendant is formally charged with a crime, the case proceeds to the criminal trial phase (unless the defendant pleads guilty). This begins with jury selection, in which the prosecuting attorney and defense counsel select a jury from the randomly selected jury pool through the process of elimination. Once the jury is set, counsel for the prosecution and defense make their opening statements; present evidence, call witnesses to the stand for testimony and cross-examination, and then make their closing arguments. The jury then deliberates for as long as it takes to reach a verdict. This section covers the basics of criminal trials, including detailed information about the insanity defense.
The Right to Counsel
The right to counsel is provided by the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, though it was decades before this was interpreted to mean that the court should provide counsel to the indigent. Learn more about who may be 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 before, during and after a criminal trial.
The Right Against Self-Incrimination
The phrase "pleading the Fifth" will be 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. In practice the right is a little more complicated than it is depicted on TV though. Learn about the Fifth Amendment's history, how it is used in a legal proceedings and other situations in which the Fifth Amendment Right might be applicable.
The Right to Trial by a Jury of Peers
Although there is no part of the Constitution that provides for a trial by a "jury of peers" the notion is older than the United States and well established in our legal system. Unfortunately for some it doesn't mean exactly what it sounds like. A jury of peers does not imply that the jury will include even a single member that resembles the accused. Jurors are selected randomly from the community and if the resulting jury is made up entirely of a different gender, race or social class this is not generally a violation of the right. "Peers" in this context more accurately means "fellow citizens." 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 be shown to have had; these range from intentional to negligent or reckless. Someone with mental issues may commit acts involuntarily, without understanding the import of their actions, or laboring under the mistaken belief that something else is happening. The insanity defense is infrequently used, but has still generated a wide range of tests and rules that are applied differently from state-to-state. Learn more about the insanity defense, its treatment in various states, and the logic and application of the many tests and rules for legal insanity.
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