Criminal charges in California can lead to a jury trial for a defendant going through the criminal court process. A jury trial is a trial in which a body of jurors, known as the jury, serves as the trier of the case. Through the United States Constitution, a defendant has the right to a jury trial, unless a judge decides the charges, usually for a petty crime, do not require a jury trial, which also can be referred to as a trial by jury.

What is a Trial by Jury?
A trial jury’s duty is to make a decision regarding a conviction in a case, after considering the facts presented to them by the prosecution and defense. The trial by jury is overseen by a judge. A jury in California typically is made up by six to 12 citizens. Evidence in trials is chosen by each party’s attorney and must adhere to a set of rules designed to ensure that the evidence is reliable. A trial jury can take anywhere from a few days to months for the case to be completely presented and a decision made. Once a decision has been made, the decision is said to be final. However, the decision could be appealed.

Going Through a Jury Trial in California

Jury Selection
A trial by jury begins formally with the selection of the jurors. During jury selection, the judge and the attorneys on the case question a pool of potential jurors generally and as to matters pertaining to the particular case. The judge excuses potential jurors based on their responses to questioning.

Opening Statements
After the jury has been selected, the jury trial proceeds to a time for opening statements. The statements are made by the prosecuting attorney and the criminal defense attorney to set the stage for the rest of the trial. During opening statements, facts concerning the case are presented, including the role the defendant allegedly had in the case. The criminal defense lawyer typically points out, at this time, a different interpretation of the facts of the case.

Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
Once the opening statements have been made, both sides of the case are given the opportunity to present its key evidence and arguments to the jury. It is at this point that the lawyers may call upon witnesses and experts to testify, in order to strengthen his or her case. Both sides also introduce physical evidence, such as photographs, documents, and medical reports. After direct examination of a witness, the opposing party has an opportunity to question the witness through cross-examination. Once prosecution and the defense have had an opportunity to present their case and to challenge the evidence presented by the other, both sides “rest,” meaning that no more evidence will be presented to the jury before closing arguments are made.

Closing Arguments
The closing argument offers both parties a chance to “sum up” the case. This is the last chance for the prosecution and the defense to address the jury and plead for justice.

Jury Instruction
The next step in the jury trial, after the closing arguments, is the jury instruction. At this time, the judge gives the jury a set of standards to use when deciding on the case. The case then goes “to the jury.”

Jury Deliberation and Verdict
Following the jury instruction period, the jury meets as a group to review the case and the charges. This process is known as “jury deliberation.” Once the jury reaches a decision, the jury informs the judge, and the judge usually announces the verdict in open court.