Most criminal jury trials in Texas proceed through a standard series of events.  The order of trial is governed generally by the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure though some aspects of the way a trial is conducted varies by jurisdiction and by individual court.  Part one of this blog post discusses voir dire, arraignment, pretrial motions, and opening statements.

Voir Dire

Voir Dire or jury selection is the portion of the trial where the jurors who will hear a case are chosen.  This is the only portion of the trial where the jurors are able to speak to the lawyers.  Both the state and the defense have the opportunity to conduct voir dire (in that order).  The objective in voir dire is to determine the jurors that you believe will be helpful or harmful to your side of the case.  By asking questions about issues relevant to the case, the lawyers attempt to gain an understanding of whether a particular juror is a person they want deciding the case.  A juror may be struck for cause if he or she cannot follow the law or demonstrates a bias.  Depending upon the type of case, the lawyers get a fixed number of peremptory challenges that can be used to strike a juror for any reason except those based upon the race, gender, or religion the juror.

Arraignment

The arraignment before the jury is the formal entry of a plea before trial begins.  Except in those cases in which the defendants is admitting guilt and using a jury to assess punishment, the plea at this stage of the trial is “not guilty”.

Pretrial Motions

Pretrial motions may be heard at this stage. Pretrial motions are sometimes heard by the court before voir dire and some are even heard during trial depending upon the type of motion.  There are many types of pretrial motions that may be filed; common motions filed before trial and argued to the court are motions in limine and motions to suppress evidence.  The court may wait until shortly before a witness testifies to hear a motion to suppress that witness’s testimony or a particular piece of evidence that may be presented through a witness.

Opening Statements

The opening statement is the lawyers’ opportunity to tell the jury what he or she believes the evidence in the case will show. The state almost always gives an opening statement. Whether the defense puts on an opening statement on the type of case.  If the defendant chooses to give an on opening statement, most courts will permit the defendant give it before the defense starts putting on its evidence (after the state puts on its evidence).  Like closing arguments, opening statements are not considered evidence in a case.

© 2016 David A. Nachtigall, Attorney at Law, PLLC

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