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Utah Criminal Trial Attorney - Jury Trials - Bench Trials

The right to a trial by jury is one of the most fundamental rights protected by our Constitution. Just being charged with a crime does not make you guilty. Instead, in a criminal case our Constitution places the burden of proof on the prosecutor, who is required to prove each required fact beyond a reasonable doubt and convince a jury of your peers that you are guilty. If a criminal prosecutor cannot meet that burden, the jury is required to find you not guilty.

The process of presenting a jury trial can be quite complicated. Having a seasoned criminal defense attorney on your side can help give you the best chance of success in your case. Stephen Howard has conducted trials in a variety of cases, including jury trials in cases involving murder, attempted murder, aggravated robbery, aggravated sexual abuse, drug charges, forgery, burglary, DUI, and more. Contact us today to arrange for an initial consultation.

Overview of the Utah Jury Trial Process

Jury Selection and Voir Dire
While there are many steps involved in getting a case ready for trial, the first step in actually conducting a jury trial is the selection of a jury. In a process called "voir dire," prospective jurors are required to answer questions designed to reveal any prejudices or biases that might prevent them from being fair and impartial. If any prospective jurors demonstrate by their answers that they would not be fair and impartial, they can be removed "for cause." Each side (prosecution and defense) then has the opportunity to remove a certain number of potential jurors using what is called a "peremptory challenge."  These challenges can be based on just about anything except for Constitutionally protected factors, such as race or gender.

Opening Statements
Once the jury is empaneled, both sides have the opportunity to present an opening statement to the jury. This allows each side to explain to the jury what evidence they can expect to hear during the trial. While some attorneys will either waive the right to present an opening statement or reserve the opening statement until the beginning of the defense case, a good criminal defense attorney understands the importance of getting the theory of your case into the juror's minds as soon as possible. Presenting your version of events early on can give you a better chance of swaying the jury to your side.

Presentation of Evidence and Cross-Examination
Following the opening statements, the prosecution has the first chance to present evidence and witnesses. After the prosecutor examines (questions) each witness, defense counsel gets to conduct a cross-examination of the witness. This is an opportunity to identify contradictions in the witness' testimony, clarify testimony, or to bring out favorable facts that the prosecutor may have tried to avoid.

The Defense Case and Defendant's Decision to Testify
After the prosecution has presented its witnesses, the defense then has the choice of whether or not tor present further evidence or witnesses. Although a defendant in a criminal case is entitled to a presumption of innocence, it is often beneficial to present evidence in rebuttal of the prosecutor's case. It is often said that the best defense is a good offense,.

The defendant must ultimately decide whether or not to testify. This can be a hard decision. On the one hand, many jurys like to hear both sides of the story. On the other hand, there can be circumstances in which a defendant's choice to testify can work against the defense case.

If a defendant chooses to testify, the prosecutor is then entitled to cross-examine the defendant. A defendant's testimony may also open the door to allow the prosecutor to introduce damaging evidence that otherwise would be inadmissible. For example, evidence of a defendant's prior criminal record is generally inadmissible, but can become admissible if the defendant testifies. Evidence that may have been suppressed for a Fifth Amendment violation may become admissible if the defendant testifies in a manner contrary to previous statements or admissions made by the defendant. It is a complicated decision, and one that should only be made after serious consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Prosecution's Rebuttal Case
At the close of the defense case, the prosecutor has the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence in rebuttal of evidence that has been presented by the defense. Any rebuttal witnesses are again subject to cross-examination by the defense.

Jury Instructions
Following the presentation of all evidence, the judge will instruct the jury on the laws that they are supposed to follow in deliberating as well as the elements of each charge that must be proven by the prosecutor.

Closing Argument
The final step in the trial is the closing argument. During closing arguments, the prosecutor has the opportunity to speak twice to the jury, while the defense has only one opportunity. The justification that is sometimes given is that the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, who should therefore be entitled to have both the first and last word. In theory, the second opportunity to speak is to allow the prosecutor to respond to the arguments raised by defense counsel's closing argument. The reality is that many prosecutor's will intentionally save their best material for last, so as to deny the defense an opportunity to respond. This requires defense counsel to not only respond to what the prosecutor says in closing argument, but to also anticipate what the prosecutor will present in the rebuttal argument. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney here can make all the difference.

Jury Deliberations
Following closing arguments, the jury is left to deliberate, or discuss among themselves, whether they have been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. Unlike a civil case, in a criminal case, the jury is required to reach a unanimous verdict. This applies to both a not guilty and a guilty verdict. Either way, the jury must unanimously agree.

Reading the Verdict
After the jury has reached a verdict, the judge will call both sides and the jury back into the courtroom. In some jurisdictions, the jury foreperson will read the verdict. In other jurisdictions, a court clerk will announce the verdict. Once the verdict is announced, either party may ask to have the jury polled, which means that each individual juror is asked to affirm that the verdict read accurately represents that juror's individual position. After the verdict is read, the jury is dismissed.

Dismissal or Sentencing
If the jury's verdict was "not guilty," then the case is dismissed and the defendant is free to go. If the verdict is "guilty," then a sentencing hearing is scheduled. Under Utah law, a person is entitled to be sentenced no sooner than two days, and no later than 45 days after the trial. That means that you are entitled to not be sentenced the same day your trial is held. The judge will typically set the hearing between four and six weeks out, and will usually request that a pre-sentence report be prepared.

Bench Trials in Utah

Not all trials are heard by a jury. A bench trial is one in which the judge, rather than the jury, is asked to hear the testimony and make a factual determination of guilt or innocence. While most defense attorneys agree that you are generally better off presenting your case to a jury rather than a judge, there are circumstances where a judge may be in a better position to give you a fair trial.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial for criminal charges that carry the potential of incarceration for more than six months. But in Utah, a person is guaranteed the right to a jury trial on all misdemeanor and felony charges. For some "petty" misdemeanor offenses, prosecutors will sometimes attempt to eliminate the defendant's right to a jury trial by amending the charge to the infraction level.

The procedures for a bench trial are essentially the same as for a jury trial. The obvious exceptions would be that there is no jury selection, no jury instruction, and no jury deliberation. Instead, the judge alone performs the fact-finding function that the jury would normally perform. And the judge alone makes the deicision as to what verdict should be reached.

Appeals Following Trial in Utah

If you have been convicted of a criminal offense at trial, you have a right to appeal your case. The appeal process can be long and complicated. But if you decide you want to appeal, a notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after the final order (sentencing order) is entered.

Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney in Utah

The decision to take your case to trial is a serious one. There are risks involved in taking any case to trial. You can greatly improve your chances of winning your trial if you have an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney on your side.  Stephen Howard has a record of achieving real results for his clients.

Based in Salt Lake City, criminal attorney Stephen Howard offers legal services to clients throughout all of Utah. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.  See the difference experience can make.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
340 East 400 South, Suite 25, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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