If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime, the New York State criminal case process can feel like a hopelessly complex uphill battle. Much of that is due to the often-confusing way a criminal case progresses. To help you make sense of the chaos, The Law Offices of Michael H. Ricca P.C. is here to explain the convoluted New York State criminal case process.
Today, we will focus on what is arguably the most nerve-wrecking portion of any criminal case in New York, the trial.
This is a nine part series that explains the criminal case process in New York. We have covered a wide array of events and topics that should be understood prior to the actual criminal trial. In our last article, Part 6: Suppression Hearings (Huntley, Dunaway, Mapp, and Wade), we explained the different suppression hearings, as well as how their success will affect your trial.
If you would like to learn more about each of the pre-trial topics, please visit one or all of the following informational postings: Part 1: The Stop and Arrest, Part 2: The Arraignment, Part 3: The Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury Proceedings, Part 4: Appearances and Plea Negotiations, or Part 5: Pre-Trial Discovery and Motion Practice.
Prior to the trial, the defense has had a number of opportunities to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. If you have opted to plead not guilty and the motions and suppression hearings have not led to a dismissal of charges, you will now need to prepare for a trial.
Before the trial begins, it is important to remember that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. While it may feel like you are defending your innocence, it is the prosecution who must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if just one juror does not believe you are guilty, the prosecution may not receive the guilty verdict they had hoped for.
Step 1: Judge or Jury Trial:
All criminal cases in New York State will be held in front of a judge. In New York, a jury trial is also an option for all felony cases, as well as any misdemeanor case that may result in six or more months in jail. A judge will still be present throughout a jury trial; however, the jury will ultimately decide whether you are guilty of the crime.
If you opt for a jury trial, the court will need to assemble an appropriate selection of jurors. Jury selection is a process in itself. In short, the prosecution, defense, and judge will carefully select 12 regular jurors and alternates. A jury trial for a Class A misdemeanors will include only six jurors.
Once the jurors are selected and agreed upon, they are sworn in and the jury trial can commence.
Step 2: Preliminary Instructions:
Once the jury is sworn in, the judge will give them explicit directions. Known as preliminary instructions, these directions are important. They explain the duties expected of the jury, as well as an explanation of the trial procedure and the basic principles of the law.
Step 3: Opening Statements:
After the preliminary instructions have been delivered, the prosecutor will present their opening statement to the judge and/or jury. During these opening statements, the prosecutor will explain how they intend to prove that the defendant is indeed guilty of the charges against them. Although not required, the defense team may also choose to deliver an opening statement after the prosecutor has finished making their remarks.
Step 4: Presentation of Evidence:
The presentation of evidence, both the prosecution and defense will present their cases. The presiding judge may make rulings throughout this portion of the trial. They may also clarify any issues the jury has.
The prosecution is the first to present evidence in a criminal trial in New York State. During their presentation, the prosecution will attempt to prove guilt through the introduction of supporting evidence, witnesses, and exhibits. Throughout their presentation, however, the defense may cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.
After the prosecution has rested their case, the defense will be able to refute their claims through a presentation of evidence of their own. Witnesses on behalf of the defense may be presented at this time. The prosecution is permitted to cross-examine these witnesses during this presentation. The defense may also introduce their own evidence and exhibits in support of their argument. As the defendant, you are also allowed to testify during this phase of the trial. Keep in mind, the prosecution will be able to cross-examine you if you choose to testify.
When the defense’s presentation of evidence has ended, the prosecution is given the opportunity for a rebuttal. This means the prosecution is permitted to introduce evidence in response to that presented by the defense. When the prosecution has finished their rebuttal, the defense is give the same opportunity.
Step 5: Summation:
When the presentation of evidence and rebuttal phase of the trial has concluded, the defense is allowed to deliver a closing statement. The closing statement, or summation, is a review of the evidence as well as a final presentation of arguments. In short, it is the defense team’s final attempt to persuade the judge or jury to return a favorable ruling. While the defense has the option to do this, the prosecutor must. If the defense has chosen to deliver a summation, the prosecutor will present their closing statement after them.
Step 6: Deliberation:
If you have opted for a jury trial, the judge will need to provide them with the applicable laws as they pertain to your charges. Once this has been completed, the jury will begin their deliberations.
A jury is charged with reviewing the evidence as it has been presented to them. They will then compare the case presented by the prosecution and defense to the applicable laws.
In New York State, jury deliberations occur in private rooms. They continue for as long as necessary. Sequestration rarely occurs and jurors are permitted to go home at the end of the day whether a verdict has been reached or not. They will be instructed to return the next day and are not permitted to discuss the case.
Step 7: Verdict:
In a jury trial for a criminal case, the jury must unanimously agree on a guilty verdict. If they are unanimous and agree the charges are apt, you will be convicted of the charges.
However, if a jury agrees with some charges, but are not unanimous on others, the judge may allow them to report a “partial verdict.”
If the jury cannot come to an agreement on any of the charges, this is considered a “hung jury.” Should this occur, the judge will declare a mistrial. If a mistrial is declared, the prosecution can decide whether they would like to re-try the case.
If the jury decides the prosecution did not prove you are guilty, you will be acquitted of the charges. If you are found not guilty, the prosecution will not be able to try you for the same charges again.
Step 8: Post-Trial Motions and Proceedings:
If a pre-sentence report is not received or not required, the judge may sentence you at the time of your conviction. However, the defense may request an adjournment prior to this. The defense may also submit a Motion to Set Aside the Verdict. If they are successful, the judge may agree to dismiss some or all of the charges or grant a new trial.
The trial is the culmination of all the pre-trial efforts. If a trial outcome looks to be unfavorable, your defense attorney may recommend that you entertain plea bargains offered by the prosecution. However, the ultimate decision on how to proceed is up to you.
Join us next week to learn more
about the sentencing phase of the criminal case process in New York State.
If you or a loved one has been arrested, contact
our attorneys at The Law Offices of Michael H. Ricca, P.C. at (516) 500-1647
once you are able to do so for your free telephone consultation or visit us
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