After a crime has been committed leading up to an arrest or summons, the State’s Attorney’s Office will review the case and determine applicable charges. The State’s Attorney’s Office will then see cases through bail review, investigation, grand jury hearings, arraignment, trial, and sentencing.
Cases for motor vehicle violations (e.g., drunk driving, fleeing and eluding, driving while suspended), misdemeanors (e.g., assault, destruction of property, theft, drug possession), and specific felonies are conducted in District Court. Cases for serious felony offenses (e.g., murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, sexual offenses, burglary, drug distribution) and all jury trials are conducted in the Circuit Court.
For felony trials, defendants may decide between having a bench trial for the presiding judge to render a verdict or a jury trial consisting of 12 jurors who render a verdict. Evidence and witness testimony is presented during the trial and a judge or jury will reach a verdict at the conclusion of the trial.
Features of a criminal trial include:
Opening Statements: Prosecutors and defense attorneys outline the evidence they expect to present during the trial.
State’s Case: The prosecutor on behalf of the State presents evidence against the defendant. In criminal cases, the burden is on the State to prove the defendant guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.
Defendant’s Case: After the State rests its case, the defense attorney may present evidence and witnesses. Defendants are not required to testify on their own behalf.
Jury Instructions: At the conclusion of all the evidence, the judge informs the jury of the issues to be decided and the rules of law that apply to the case.
Closing Arguments: Closing arguments are summaries by both sides of the evidence presented during trial from their respective viewpoints.
Jury Deliberations: At the conclusion of the trial, the jury meets to consider the evidence and render a decision.
Jury Verdicts: Jury deliberations are concluded when a unanimous verdict has been reached. When this is done, the jury returns to the courtroom and the jury verdict is announced. If the jury is unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict, the judge will declare a mistrial. Prosecutors can retry cases that end in a mistrial.
Sentencing: After a defendant pleads or is found guilty, a Judge determines the sentence that he or she is to receive, based on the sentencing guidelines which may include prison or probation.
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