Criminal Process Part 5: Criminal Trial
Overview of a Criminal Trial
We set out below what happens during a trial. A trial is a very fluid process. The unexpected can happen and lawyers have to be experienced and be quick on their feet to deal with these contingencies. In any case, below is the usual trial process.
Commencement of Prosecution’s case
A criminal trial will usually begin with parties giving a summary of what they hope to achieve at trial and how they will do this.
The Prosecution will present its case and has to prove the commission of the offence beyond reasonable doubt, meaning that there is no other logical explanation from the facts except that the defendant had committed the crime. The Prosecution’s case will be as follows:
- Opening statement by the Prosecution,
Evidence is the lifeblood of a trial. It is adduced in the process called Examination-in-Chief. The Prosecution will call their witness to give evidence and to speak about what has happened. The evidence which the Prosecution can present through the witness may take the form of documents, photographs or other objects.
Notably, during this process, the prosecutor is not allowed to ask leading questions. Leading questions are questions where the answer is usually contained in the question itself and the examiner is attempting to seek a confirmation. On the other hand, non-leading questions allows the witnesses to provide the information voluntarily. An example of a leading question would be “were you at the victim’s house on 23 June 2019 at 3pm?”. By contrast, a non-leading question would be “where were you on 23 June 2019 at 3pm?”.
After each witness’s Examination-in-Chief, the Defence will be allowed to cross-examine the witness. During this stage, the Defence is allowed to ask both leading and non-leading questions. The Defence should challenge the evidence presented by the Prosecution and point out the flaws of the Prosecution’s case. This can be done by showing the witness any documents that can challenge the witness’s earlier testimony.
After the cross-examination, the Prosecution is allowed to re-examine the witness to clarify the answers made during the cross-examination. However, the Prosecution is not allowed to ask leading questions or raise new issues that were not brought up during the cross-examination.
Call of Defence
After the Prosecution presents its case, the Defence may make a submission of no case to answer. This will only be accepted by the court if there is insufficient evidence to support the Prosecution’s case. If the court finds that there is no case to answer, the court will order a discharge amounting to acquittal.
If there is sufficient evidence to support the Prosecution’s case, the Defence will then be given the option to present its case. This will include the examination of the accused, followed by the accused’s witness. The examination of the accused and the accused’s witness will also follow the stages of Examination-in-Chief, Cross-examination and Re-examination, similar to that of the Prosecution’s case.
The accused may apply for a subpoena to ensure that his/her witness will attend the trial. The subpoena will be sent to the witness, stipulating the specific time and date for the witness to attend Court and to produce documents if required.
If a dispute regarding the admissibility of the evidence arises, the Court can hold an ancillary hearing to assess the admissibility of the statement to be submitted as part of the case. For example, during the cross-examination of the accused, the Prosecution may seek to produce statements made by the accused during the earlier stages of investigation, but the accused may dispute the admissibility of the statements. If the statements were made through threat, inducement or a promise, the statements will be deemed to be inadmissible.
After all the witness has provided evidence at the trial, the Prosecution and the Defence will be given the opportunity to make closing submissions. Closing submissions is used to summarise the evidence and arguments and to persuade the Judge to decide the case in the party’s favour.
The Court may ask for an adjournment to decide on the verdict or they may pass the verdict on the spot. If non-guilty verdict is passed, acquittal is granted and the accused is released. If guilty verdict is passed, the case will go on to mitigation and sentencing.
Please note that this article does not constitute express or implied legal advice, whether in whole or in part. If you require legal advice, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.