The Order of Events in a Jury Trial
Here's what to expect if you go to trial for a DUI or other driving related offense.
After the jury is selected, the jurors will be “sworn in” by the judge or clerk. Then, the trial proceeds in much the same way as a trial before a judge.
Though opening statements are often skipped during a ticket-related trial before a judge, it is unwise to waive your opening statement when a jury is present. That’s because it is very important to get the jurors on your side right from the start. Stand up behind your counsel table and make your opening statement facing the jury. Don’t try to walk around the courtroom. Just stand straight, look right at the jury members and tell them briefly what evidence you will produce to show you are innocent. It’s fine to quickly glance at notes, but since you should have already practiced your statement at home with friends, you should never need to read your statement. The important thing to remember is that your bearing and how you make your presentation will probably have a much greater effect on a jury than it would have on a judge. Never be sarcastic or insulting, even if the arresting officer treated you poorly. Instead assume the officer, acting in good faith, simply made an honest mistake that you now wish—with the help of the jury—to correct.
The Prosecution’s Testimony
In jury trials, the officer will always take the witness stand and testify in response to the prosecutor’s questions. You have the right to object to improper questions, but in a jury trial you should save your objections for issues that really are critical. That’s because jurors typically resent anyone they think is trying to hide information from them and may rule against the side that objects the most. In addition, trying to keep evidence from a jury may backfire.
When you cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, be courteous but firm. If the officer tries to say more than you want, promptly but politely interrupt and direct the officer to “Please answer the question; you’ve already had a chance to tell your story. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t try to influence the jury any further.”
Be sure to look directly at the jury from time to time while you explain key points. You want the jurors to see you as an honest, law-abiding citizen who has been mistakenly accused. But don’t overact. People who suck up to the jury usually get what they deserve. Judges often train themselves to remain totally expressionless even while listening to the most blatant nonsense. But most jurors are neither trained to do this nor particularly interested in appearing impartial. So, be alert for nonverbal signs that might suggest that one or more jurors is confused or skeptical about your testimony, and adjust your conduct accordingly. For example, when questioning a not particularly believable witness, if you see jurors frowning or snickering, you probably won’t want to rely heavily on what that witness said in making your closing statement.
When your testimony is completed, and after the prosecutor has cross-examined you, it’s time to present any witnesses who will testify on your behalf. Depending on the preferences of the judge, your witnesses will either testify in narrative fashion as you probably did, or in response to your questions. If the judge indicates that you should question the witness, you may want to explain that because you’re unfamiliar with the way such questions should be asked, you would prefer just to let your witness explain what they saw. But if the judge doesn’t agree, be prepared to ask questions.
Cross-Examination by the Prosecution
When you have finished testifying, it’s your time to be cross-examined by the prosecutor. Listen carefully to each question. If you don’t fully understand a question, don’t guess at the answer; instead, ask the prosecutor to repeat and clarify it. If you understand the question but just don’t know the answer, say so, keeping in mind that you have a right to explain your answer, even when your answer is “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” On the other hand, do not purposely avoid answering reasonably clear questions. Otherwise, the jury will think you are being evasive.
After all the evidence is presented, both you and the prosecutor will have the opportunity to present a closing argument. Making a closing argument to a jury is much more important than making one to a judge in a nonjury trial. Judges pride themselves on deciding cases based on evidence—which they have already heard—not on the arguments from the opposing sides. Jurors, on the other hand, are usually far less sure of their legal judgments and will listen more carefully to your argument as to why there is reasonable doubt as to your guilt.