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How does a criminal trial typically proceed?

When a prosecutor charges a Louisianan with a crime, the prosecutor sets a particular process in motion. How that process develops, and ultimately ends, varies depending on the circumstances. A criminal charge may be dismissed entirely, plea negotiation may lead to a plea agreement, or, alternatively, a defendant may opt to proceed with a criminal trial. Once a case goes to trial, procedurally there are a number of steps that must occur.

In a trial, a prosecutor will present the state or federal government's case, claiming that a defendant committed a criminal act. A defendant will then argue his or her side, trying to show that the evidence does not establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard that the government has to pass to obtain a conviction.

Typically, a trial begins with the selection of a jury. Potential jurors may be excluded by both the defense and the prosecution until a sufficient jury pool has been obtained. When a trial begins, both the prosecutor and the defense will have an opportunity to present opening statements in which they convey a picture of how they each view the case. Following opening statements, both sides will present their "case-in-chief," which may include testimony of witnesses, as well as the opportunity to cross-examine the other side's witnesses. Finally, each side may conclude with closing arguments to summarize their positions.

A judge will then provide jury instructions to guide the jury in the legal standards it must use to make its determination. After the jury deliberates and makes a decision on guilt or innocence, the jury will notify the judge, who then reports the verdict to the court.

Each trial will have its own nuances, and, of course, a tremendous amount of preparation will be involved before a trial actually begins. Thus, a trial is not something to be taken lightly. Having a skilled criminal defense attorney can help a defendant navigate the trial process and ensure that he or she is as fully prepared as possible with strong legal arguments to buttress his or her position.

Source: FindLaw, "Criminal Trial Overview," accessed April 15, 2016

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