How a Jury Functions
A fundamental principle of the American criminal justice system is the right to trial by jury. However, a jury trial can be risky, and for some people it is better to take a plea deal than to proceed to trial. It’s important to understand and weigh the risks of taking a case to trial, especially if the penalties are harsh. If you are facing criminal charges and are concerned with how a jury functions, an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney can answer your questions. At Hanlon Law, our principal Will Hanlon is a skillful and seasoned criminal lawyer who has dedicated his career to defending the accused.Voir Dire
Voir dire is the process by which a jury is empaneled. Prospective jurors are questioned about their biases, feelings, and any preconceived notions that may impact their ability to deliberate. These can serve as a reason the prosecutor or defense attorney challenges a particular prospective juror. Figuring out these biases or preconceived notions in order to weed those jurors out is the main purpose of jury selection.
Most of the time, once criminal charges are brought, you are entitled to a six-person jury trial in Florida. The exception is for first degree murder trials, in which twelve jurors must be sworn. In Florida, the jury verdict needs to be unanimous in order for a conviction to go forward.How a Jury Functions
As the accused, you are presumed innocent by the jury during the trial. The prosecutor has the burden of proving to a jury every element of the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. If she can’t do it, you should be acquitted. The standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a very high standard, and the highest standard of proof used in American courts. The elements of the charge are supposed to be proven using testimony and other evidence that the prosecutor puts forward during the trial.
As the person accused of a crime, you do not have a burden of proof and you don’t need to prove anything to the jury. You are entitled to stay silent. The prosecutor can’t make you testify in your own defense. Although you don’t have the burden to meet a particular standard of proof, it’s advisable to retain a skillful attorney with trial experience who can cast doubt on the version of facts being presented by the prosecutor. Failure to adequately counter a prosecutor’s case so as to raise reasonable doubt in the juror’s minds can result in a conviction.
At trial, both the state and the defense can make an opening statement after the jury has been selected. The defense can present an opening statement then, or may wait until after the prosecution has finished making its case. Defendants sometimes use this strategy if they intend to put on a case.
As the accused, you are entitled to have your attorney thoroughly cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. After the state rests, your attorney may move for a judgment of acquittal. This is a motion arguing that the evidence and testimony don’t support the particular criminal charges. If this motion were granted, the case would be concluded without conviction, but if it’s denied, the defense puts on its case before the jury. If you do choose to testify, the prosecutor may ask you about any prior felony or misdemeanor convictions you have that involve dishonesty. These prior convictions can be considered by the jury to weigh whether what you’ve stated under oath is credible.
Once your defense has concluded, your attorney may make a renewed judgment of acquittal before closing arguments. After closing arguments, the jury goes to deliberate. During deliberations, the jury may ask for more instructions or it may ask for testimony to be read back. The office in charge of the jurors can take them back into the courtroom for the instructions or read-back. Notice is given to the prosecutor and defense counsel when these things happen.
If you’re found guilty by the jury, the court sentences you. However, a trial court can enter a judgment notwithstanding the verdict if the jury’s decision isn’t supported by evidence. Where there are mandatory minimum sentences applicable to your case, the court is supposed to sentence you to at least that mandatory minimum. If you’re found not guilty by the jury, you are free to go.Retain a Criminal Defense Attorney With Jury Trial Experience in St. Petersburg
Many criminal cases conclude with a plea deal rather than going before a jury. However, it’s important for you, as the accused, to understand how a jury functions in St. Petersburg. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, Hanlon Law can potentially help. Our founder Will Hanlon is an experienced trial lawyer who has been defending the accused since 1994. Contact Hanlon Law at 727.289.0222 or via our online form.