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What to expect during a criminal trial

Going through a criminal can feel overwhelming and confusing. You can ease some of your stress by understanding the process.

Knowing what happens helps you prepare for each stage of your trial so you can protect your rights.

What happens in a criminal trial?

A criminal trial in Indiana generally entails the following steps:

  • Arraignment: A judge reads the charges against you in this formal proceeding. You enter a guilty, no contest or not guilty plea. The judge may also set bail at this time.
  • Jury selection: In this step, both sides choose a group of people who will decide your case. The judge and the involved parties ask potential jurors questions to see if they can be impartial.
  • Opening statements: Each side gives an overview of its case and explains what it intends to prove during the trial.
  • Presentation of evidence: Each side presents proof, including witnesses, documents and other items. Witnesses take an oath to tell the truth and then answer questions. You can expect to see a direct examination, where the side presenting the witness asks questions. Then, you will see cross-examination, where the opposing side asks questions.

After offering proof, each side gives a closing argument summarizing the key points. These statements help the jury understand the important aspects of the case. The involved parties try to persuade the jury to decide in their favor during these statements.

How do courts decide trial outcomes?

When closing arguments end, the judge instructs the jury on the law and explains how to apply laws to the facts of the case. The judge also reminds the jury to remain impartial and base their decision only on the evidence presented.

The jury then goes to a private room to discuss the case in a deliberation process. The jurors review the evidence and try to achieve a unanimous decision. Once they reach a verdict, they return to the courtroom. The judge reads the verdict aloud. If they find you guilty, the judge sets a date for sentencing.

Understanding your defense options and knowing the steps of a criminal trial reduces uncertainty. You can make informed decisions about your case when you know what to expect.