Jury Trials in Travis County

Jury Trial - Criminal Trial Guide

Criminal Trials come in two varieties: Jury Trial or a Judge Bench Trial by Court. Each type of trial employs the same law and procedures, except one large distinction: A Judge Bench Trial does not have a jury of the defendant's peers to decide factual issues. Instead, in a Bench Trial, the Judge decides.

A Judge Bench Trial allows the Judge to sit as trier of fact as well as trier of law. This means a Judge decides not only legal issues, such as relevancy objections or witness testimony questions, but also decides guilt based on the facts presented during the trial.

A Jury Trial, by contrast, allows the jury to assume the role of trier of fact. By leaving the questions of law to the judge, the jury can focus solely on the witness testimony and evidence at trial, ultimately deciding on the facts of the case, and whether they lead to guilt or Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Overview of a Criminal Jury Trial

After the appropriate motions are made by both the defense and the prosecution, a group of potential jurors are brought into the courtroom. During Jury selection, or voir dier, both the defense as well as the prosecution (including the judge) ask the potential jurors questions regarding their ability to be fair and unbalanced in hearing the evidence presented at trial. Each side (prosecution and defense) are allowed to use challenges to dismiss a potential juror from the case. Once both sides agree (or run out of challenges) on the jurors that remain, the court swears in the jury panel.

Once the jury panel is seated, the lawyers begin their Opening Statement, starting with the prosecution. During the opening statement, each side tells the jury what the evidence will likely show.

Witnesses are next, starting with the prosecution witnesses. The prosecutor questions his or her witnesses in Direct Examination, while the defense attorney gets to question them during Cross Examination. Once the prosecution is finished with their witnesses, the defense gets to call any witnesses to testify, again repeating the Direct Examination and Cross Examination pattern until the defense rests.

Closing Arguments are presented by both sides, starting with the prosecution, then defense, and then by the prosecution again. Because the burden of proof (proving the case) is with the prosecution, they are allowed to go twice, according to the criminal procedure law.

Then the Judge reads the jury a set of instructions intended to give jurors a framework of guidelines on how to interpret the facts of the case with the law, and the Jury is sent off to deliberate. Once they reach a verdict, be it not guilty ot guilty, the verdict is read to the parties. If they cannot reach a verdict, a mistrial is declared, and the prosecution has the option of refiling and retrying the case, or dismissing. Sometimes the case may be refiled with lesser charges. Because the trial ended without a verdict, it is not considered 'Double Jeopardy' to have a second trial on the same charges.

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