Providing Aggressive Defense To Help You Achieve Your Goals SCHEDULE A FREE CONSULTATION

What to Expect at Trial 

The Law Offices of Hoskins and Penton, P.A. July 8, 2024

Criminal trial in session at court roomAnyone facing criminal charges may feel a range of emotions, from fear and anger to despair and uncertainty. This isn’t the best time to be alone, especially not if you are at the stage when your case is going to trial.

However, your situation isn’t hopeless. Just because you’ve been charged with a crime doesn’t necessarily mean you will be convicted. In fact, that’s what a trial is for, and the outcome of your case is directly correlated with how prepared you are for your trial.  

When working with an attorney in preparation for your trial, you can be confident that you’re putting your best foot forward in your case. And our attorneys at The Law Offices of Hoskins and Penton, P.A., are here to fight for justice on your behalf.

Our criminal defense attorneys in Clearwater, Florida, have over half a century of combined legal experience and can put that experience to work for you. Our law firm also serves clients throughout Tampa, St. Petersburg, and New Port Richey. 

What Happens During a Criminal Trial?

Once an individual–known as the defendant–is charged with a crime, their case proceeds to an arraignment hearing during which they have the option to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

This is also an opportunity for the opposing sides to engage in plea bargaining to negotiate a more lenient sentence. However, if the defendant pleads not guilty, their case will proceed to trial, which consists of the following six stages:  

1. Jury Selection 

The first stage of any criminal trial is the selection of a jury. This process is known as "voir dire," which is French for "to speak the truth." During this process, both the defense and prosecution have a chance to question potential jurors to determine if they can be impartial and fair. The aim is to ensure that the jury is free from biases that could potentially affect the outcome of the trial. 

Lawyers on both sides have the opportunity to challenge potential jurors. They can do this through "peremptory challenges," where no reason needs to be given, or "challenges for cause," which require a specific reason, such as a demonstrated bias. Once both sides are satisfied, a jury is selected. This group of people will ultimately decide your fate, so it's an important part of the process. 

It's crucial to note that the jury selection process can take some time. The goal is to assemble a balanced and fair jury, which means thorough vetting. Knowing that this step is geared toward ensuring a fair trial can help ease some of your concerns. 

2. Opening Statements 

After the first stage is over, the trial moves on to the opening statements. These are the first opportunities for both the prosecution and the defense to outline their cases to the jury, essentially serving as a roadmap for what each side intends to prove during the trial. 

The prosecution will go first, laying out the evidence they plan to present and explaining how they believe it proves the defendant's guilt. Then, it will be the defense's opportunity to make an opening statement, where they will outline their case and provide a preview of the evidence they will present to refute the prosecution's claims. 

Opening statements are not argumentative but rather descriptive. They set the stage for the evidence that will follow and help the jury understand the context of the case. It's essential to listen carefully to these statements, as they give a sense of the themes and strategies each side will employ. Without legal representation, the defendant may not be able to adjust their defense strategy after the prosecution’s opening statement if necessary.  

3. Evidence Presentation 

After the opening statements, the trial moves to the evidence presentation phase. This is the heart of the trial, where both sides present their evidence to support their case. The prosecution goes first, calling witnesses and presenting physical evidence to build their case against the defendant. 

Each piece of evidence is subject to cross-examination by the defense. This means the defense has the opportunity to question the prosecution's witnesses and challenge the validity of the evidence presented. This back-and-forth aims to test the reliability and credibility of the evidence. 

Once the prosecution has presented all its evidence, it’s the defense's turn. The defense will call its own witnesses and present evidence to counter the prosecution's claims. Just like the prosecution's evidence, the defense's evidence is also subject to cross-examination. This trial phase is the case's core, as it provides the jury with the information they need to make an informed decision. 

4. Closing Arguments 

Both sides will then make their closing arguments and use it as their final opportunity to address the jury before deliberation. Unlike opening statements, closing arguments can be more argumentative, as each side will summarize the evidence and make a case for why the jury should return a verdict in their favor. 

The prosecution will go first, followed by the defense. The prosecution may also have a chance for a rebuttal, addressing points made in the defense's closing argument. This is a critical moment in the trial, as it allows both sides to highlight the strengths of their case and point out the weaknesses in the opposition's case. 

Closing arguments are intended to be persuasive, aiming to sway the jury's opinion one last time before they begin deliberations.  

5. Deliberation 

Once the closing arguments are complete, the judge instructs the jury and sends them to deliberate. Deliberation is the process by which the jury discusses the case in private to reach a verdict. During this time, jurors review the evidence, discuss the testimony, and apply the law as instructed by the judge. 

The length of deliberation can vary greatly. Some juries reach a decision quickly, while others may take days or even weeks. The jury must reach a unanimous decision in most criminal cases, meaning all jurors must agree on the verdict. 

If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, it may result in a mistrial, which means the case may get a retrial with a new jury.  

6. Verdict 

After deliberation, the jury returns to the courtroom to deliver the verdict. The judge will ask the jury foreperson to announce whether the jury has found the defendant guilty or not guilty on each of the charges. This moment is the culmination of the entire trial process. 

If the verdict is "not guilty," the defendant is acquitted and free to go. If the verdict is "guilty," the judge will determine the appropriate sentence for the defendant. In some cases, immediate sentencing may occur, while in others, a separate sentencing hearing will be scheduled. 

The announcement of the verdict is an emotionally charged moment for everyone involved. It's the moment of truth that will have a major impact on the defendant's future. Remember: jail time is not the only consequence of a trial in which you are found guilty, as there are several alternatives to going to jail.  

What Is the Role of the Judge and Jury?

Many people are confused as to the roles of the judge and jury during the criminal justice process. The judge acts as the gatekeeper of the law, ensuring that the trial proceeds fairly and according to legal rules and procedures. The judge makes determinations on the admissibility of evidence, provides instructions to the jury, and, in the event of a guilty verdict, imposes the sentence. 

The jury, on the other hand, is the fact-finder. They are responsible for evaluating the evidence presented during the trial and making a determination of guilt or innocence. The jury's role is to impartially consider the evidence and apply the law as instructed by the judge to reach a verdict. 

Both the judge and jury play equally crucial roles in ensuring a fair trial. While the judge oversees the legal aspects, the jury brings a collective, unbiased perspective to the evaluation of the evidence.  

Prepare For Your Trial With an Attorney

Given how much is at stake when your criminal case proceeds to trial, it would make sense to consider hiring an attorney to prepare for what’s about to happen. And this is true even if you think you’re guilty of the charges and there’s no hope for you. At The Law Offices of Hoskins and Penton, P.A., we are here to rekindle your hope and give you a chance for a bright future.  

We understand the serious nature of a trial and when a client calls us and wants us to represent them at their trial, we don’t take this responsibility lightly. With over 50 years of combined legal experience, our criminal defense attorneys work tirelessly to help our clients achieve the best possible outcomes. If you aren’t sure whether hiring an attorney for your trial would be a good idea, call The Law Offices of Hoskins and Penton, P.A. to set up a free consultation to discuss your unique situation.