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The Criminal Trial Overview


In the United States of America, most criminal cases are resolved with a plea bargain. Rarely do criminal cases in the U.S. go to trial. To be specific, it is estimated that approximately 90 to 95 percent of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains, meaning that only about 5 to 10 percent of criminal cases go to trial. However, accepting a plea bargain is not always the right choice. Sometimes, it makes sense to go to court. If you are facing criminal charges, it’s crucial that you prepare yourself for the possibility that your case could go to trial. You need to understand the legal procedures associated with criminal trials. Below is an overview of the criminal trial process.

Jury Selection

Most criminal cases that proceed to trial are heard by a judge and jury. So, in most cases, the first step in a criminal trial is jury selection. The defense and prosecution choose the jury through a question-and-answer process. This process is called “voir dire.” During voir dire, potential jury members are asked general questions and questions about the particular case. During the jury selection process, the judge, defense, and prosecution may excuse or exclude potential jurors.

Motions in Limine                                                                                               

Motion in limine means “motion at the start.” This is a motion in which the defense or prosecution asks the court to rule that certain evidence should be included or excluded in the case. For example, if you are facing an assault case and discover a witness is exaggerating the details of the case, your defense attorney can create a motion in limine that requests that the witness’s testimony be thrown out before the trial starts.

Opening Statements

The first dialogue at a criminal trial comes in the form of opening statements from the prosecution and defense. Usually, the prosecution goes first, and then the defense follows. The defense may also decide to wait until the prosecution presents its main case before making its opening statement.

The purpose of opening statements is so that;

  1. The prosecution can present its facts and tell the jury what it intends to prove
  2. The defense can present its interpretation of the facts and set the stage for refuting evidence and presenting defenses.


After opening statements, both sides present their main cases. After the prosecution presents its main case, the defense can cross-examine the prosecution witnesses and vice versa.

Closing Arguments

Closing arguments offer the prosecution and defense a chance to “sum up” their cases. Closing arguments are the last chance for the prosecution and defense to address the jury before jurors move to deliberating and making a decision. For this reason, strong closing arguments are vital.

Jury Instruction

After the defense and prosecution have presented their closing arguments, the judge gives jurors a set of legal standards they need to decide whether the defendant is guilty or not. What legal standards apply to your case depends on the charges against you and the evidence presented.

Jury Deliberation and Verdict

Finally, after receiving instruction, jury members deliberate and try to agree on whether or not the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If jurors cannot agree, the judge may declare a “mistrial.” If that happens, the case may be dismissed, or the trial may restart.

Contact an NYC Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’ve been charged with a crime and need help fighting your charges, contact our qualified and dedicated NYC criminal defense attorney, Mark I. Cohen, today.



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