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How a criminal trial works: The 6 phases

If you are fighting charges for a criminal act, you will likely have to go through a criminal trial unless you take a plea deal outside court. There are six main parts of a criminal trial that will take place. The first happens when a jury is chosen. Juries normally must meet strict criteria to make sure they're fair and open-minded enough for your case.

Next, opening statements take place. This is a good time for your initial defense to be set by your attorney before the next step, which involves witness testimonies and cross-examinations. This can be a phase of the trial that helps or hurts you, so it's important to know as much about the witnesses and what they plan to say in advance, so you can counter their claims.

Next, closing arguments take place. These arguments review the content of the case and conclude why you should not be found guilty of the crime you're accused of. This is your best chance to have your attorney speak on your behalf to make it clear why you don't deserve the punishments that are possible for your situation.

Finally, the jury will be instructed on the next steps of the case, be allowed to deliberate and will come up with a verdict. If you are innocent, guilty or if the jury has not been able to decide, this is the point when you will find out. The judge does have some discretion in the penalties you may face if you're found guilty of the crimes you've been accused of, although the jury may influence that decision to a degree.

Source: FindLaw, "Criminal Trial Overview," accessed April 22, 2016

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