CHAPTER 12: OUTLINE OF A TRIAL - Table of Contents

12.1 - Introduction12.2 - Pretrial Matters12.3 - Jury Selection12.4 - Opening Statement12.5 - Prosecution Case-in-Chief12.6 - Motion For Judgment of Acquittal/Directed Verdict12.7 - Defense Case-in-Chief12.8 - Rebuttal and Surrebuttal12.9 - Witness Examination12.10 - Jury Instructions12.11 - Closing Argument12.12 - Jury Deliberations12.13 - Motions For Mistrial12.14 - Miscellaneous Issues


This chapter discusses the process of conducting a jury trial, from the time the lawyers announce they are ready for trial all the way through to the jury's verdict. If the reader needs a shorter summary of trial procedures, a brief overview of a jury trial can be found in Section 4.8 of this manual. Substantive criminal and civil and law and procedure are discussed in other chapters. The rules of evidence that apply at trials are discussed in Chapter 13.

Trials are relatively rare in the American justice system, as most cases, both civil and criminal, settle before trial. However, trials remain the backbone of the system because they are the mechanism we use to resolve disputes when all efforts to settle cases fail. In these situations, citizen jurors decide whether the government has proved its case against a defendant; if so, the jury finds the defendant guilty, if not, the jury acquits the defendant by finding him or her not guilty. Similarly, in civil cases that are not settled, a jury decides whether a defendant is liable for the damages or other relief as claimed by the plaintiff.

The scheduling of jury trials can be tricky. A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to a speedy trial. There is also a statutory right to a speedy trial that generally requires a trial court to dismiss the charges if the defendant is not brought to trial within six months of his or her arraignment. Frequently, however, a defendant will waive the right to a speedy trial, meaning that the defendant agrees to give up that right. A defendant may waive the right to a speedy trial in order to prepare for trial, or continue plea negotiations, or for other reasons. A trial judge has wide discretion in deciding whether to grant requests to continue a trial.

Although the Boulder County courts have a policy of only setting for trial those cases that the parties anticipate will really go to trial, sometimes this goal is not reached. Typically, a number of cases are set for trial for the same day but obviously, a judge can conduct only one trial at a time. A certain number of cases settle shortly before a jury is actually selected. Trials may also be postponed due to problems with the availability of witnesses, new evidence, etc.

Civil cases are often pushed to the back of the line for trial settings because civil litigants do not have either a constitutional or a statutory right to a speedy trial. Even when a civil trial has priority over all other civil matters then pending, a criminal trial approaching a speedy trial deadline will take priority and require the continuance of the civil case.

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