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What are the phases of a criminal trial?

A criminal trial can be an overwhelming process and can be a significant concern for any accused individual facing criminal charges. Criminal trials are based on guilt or innocence and the prosecution must prove the accused individual's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A criminal trial also provides the opportunities for criminal defense. There are six primary phases of a criminal trial and anyone facing criminal charges may wonder more about them.

The six phases of a criminal trial include choosing a jury, opening statements, witness testimony and cross examinations, closing arguments, jury instructions, jury deliberations and a verdict. A sentencing phase may also follow delivery of the verdict by the jury. Though choosing a jury is typically the first phase of the criminal trial process, in some situations trials are heard by a judge alone. Both sides question potential jurors as part of the process of selecting a jury. Jurors may be excluded for certain reasons.

Following jury selection, opening statements are heard. Witnesses then provide testimony and can be cross examined. Once all of the evidence has been presented, and objections may be heard during the process, closing statements are heard. It is important to keep in mind that evidence can be challenged for a variety of reasons. The jury is then read jury instructions and begins to deliberate concerning the guilt or innocence of the accused individual. A verdict is then reached and read; if a verdict cannot be reached, other outcomes, such as a mistrial, can be declared.

Criminal trials are a well-known aspect of the criminal justice process. However, the majority of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains, the dismissal of charges or other possible outcomes. The criminal defense process begins immediately after an accused individual has been charged, or even during an investigatory phase, so it is important to understand criminal defense rights and protections early on if facing criminal charges.

Source:, "Criminal Trial Overview," Accessed Jan. 23, 2017

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