During the prosecution's case, is there a chance at cross-examination?
Yes, each side in a criminal case—just as in a civil case—has the chance to cross-examine the other side's witnesses. In a criminal case, this is guaranteed by the Confrontation Clause in the Sixth Amendment, which ensures that defendants have the right to confront those who accuse them of wrongdoing.
After the prosecution finishes its case, can the defense immediately file for dismissal?
Yes, defense attorneys can ask the court to dismiss the case after the conclusion of the prosecution's case-in-chief. The defense attorneys argue that the prosecution simply has not proven its case—that the defendant committed the crime and met the rigorous beyond a reasonable doubt standard.
What happens in the closing argument phase?
Each side presents a closing argument in which they attempt to persuade the jury as to why the jury should vote guilty or not guilty. Attorneys usually attempt to summarize the evidence from their side's perspective.
What does each side hope to accomplish with closing arguments?
Each side hopes to win its case and leave a lasting, positive impression on the jury during closing arguments. Usually, the prosecution will emphasize the strength of the evidence and that the evidence points to the defendant's guilt. The defense often emphasizes that the prosecution failed to meet the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard and that the defense witnesses established that the defendant did not commit the crime.
What is the order of argument with respect to closing arguments?
Often, the prosecutor first makes a closing argument, followed by the defense. Some states allow the trial judge the discretion to determine the order of the final argu
Each side in a criminal case has the opportunity to cross-examine a witness, a procedure guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment (iStock).
ments. For example, Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure, Rule 29.1, provides that "closing argument, and the order of such argument, shall be governed by the sound discretion of the trial judge."
Other jurisdictions allow the prosecutor the choice of whether to argue first or second. Still other jurisdictions—such as Tennessee and Florida—allow the prosecution to argue first followed by the defense, but then give the prosecution a second closing argument to rebut the defense's final argument. This final argument by the prosecution is called the "rebuttal argument."
Is there a set time for closing arguments?
In most states, court rules—either state-wide, federal or local—grant trial judges the discretion to regulate the time of closing arguments as they see fit.
What happens in the jury instruction phase of the trial?
Attorneys for each side—the prosecution and the defense—submit proposed jury instructions to the judge for consideration. The judge may have pattern jury instructions for a particular type of case that serves as the default. The judge then determines to accept the parties' proposed jury instructions.
Where do attorneys obtain proposed jury instructions?
Many proposed jury instructions come from appellate court decisions. An attorney may find a particular important point expressed in a particular way that he or she wants to submit as a proposed jury instruction. There are also books that give standard jury instructions in particularly types of cases.
What happens with the attorneys' proposed jury instructions?
Many court rules provide for a "instruction conference," which takes place in the courtroom without the jury present. At this conference, the attorneys can argue for the inclusion and exclusion of certain proposed jury instructions. The trial judge then makes the decisions as to which instructions are included in the final version that the judge reads to the jury.