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 or. Part two of this blog post discusses the presentation of evidence, the jury charge conference, closing arguments, and punishment.
The “main” portion of the trial is the presentation of witnesses and other evidence by the states and defense. The state always has the opportunity to call its witnesses first because it carries the burden of proof. The defense can cross-examine those witnesses and ask questions that challenge the evidence or clarify it in ways that are helpful to the defense of the case. Most evidence in a criminal trial is witness testimony. It is also common for the state to put on photographs, audio and video recordings, and forensic evidence. The defendant may or may not put on his own evidence in the case. This depends upon the type of case and the nature of the defense. If the defendant puts on a case, the state will have the opportunity to cross-examine his or her witnesses. Both sides may also put on evidence in rebuttal should the need arise.
Jury Charge Conference
After the evidentiary phase of the trial, the judge reads the charge to the jury. The charge includes definitions and instructions on the law that the jury must follow in making their decision. It is important that the appropriate definitions and instructions are included in the charge because if they are not, a defendant may forgo bases for his or her defense. After both sides agree on the charge, or objections have been ruled on by the court, the judge reads the charge to the jury.
Closing arguments give both sides an opportunity to summarize the evidence in the case and make arguments about whether a person should be found guilty or not guilty. The attorneys are generally allowed to argue based upon the evidence that was presented at trial and reasonable inferences from that evidence. A lawyer may not argue about information or facts that were not presented during the trial. The state may also make a plea for law enforcement, and it commonly does.
If a person is convicted at trial, the case proceeds to the punishment phase. The punishment decision may be made by either a jury or the judge. The punishment phase follows a similar format to the guilt/innocence portion of the trial. Opening statements and closing arguments may be made by the attorneys, and evidence relevant to a person’s punishment may be presented by both sides.