Legal Guide

Criminal Justice: Six Stages of a Criminal Trial

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A criminal trial involves examining all the evidence presented before the jury to decide if the defendant, beyond any reasonable doubt, committed the said crime. During a trial, the government gets the opportunity to present its case, hoping to gain a guilty verdict and a strict conviction of the defendant. In addition, a trial gives equal opportunity to the defendant. It represents a chance to disapprove of the government's testimony and provide its evidence in some cases. Finally, the jury decides whether the defendant is guilty or not of the crime in question. Suppose you want to pursue a career in criminal justice. In that case, you must keep reading to find out what criminal justice program is and learn about the various stages of a criminal trial.

Criminal justice serves as an opportunity to make a significant decrease in crime, supporting victims, and providing justice. For managing all these essential tasks of the criminal justice system, many professionals are required. They can serve in various departments such as law enforcement, the court system, and social support services. With a bachelor's in criminal justice, you will get the knowledge and tools required to pursue such a meaningful and rewarding career. However, you might be thinking about how long does it take to get a bachelor's degree in criminal justice? Bachelor's in criminal justice includes 120 and 128 credit hours, and on-campus degree programs usually require four years to complete. Similarly, online degree programs take the same amount of time for completion.

A criminal trial typically includes six main stages, each of which is explained in detail below:

  1. Selecting a Jury

The first stage of any criminal trial is to select the jury. While selecting the jury members, the judge comes up with some questions for the jurors in general and the current case. Through peremptory and for-cause challenges, the defense and the prosecution can rule out some jurors. With the peremptory challenge, jurors can be excluded for non-discriminatory reasons. In comparison, the for-cause challenge can rule out a juror that cannot be genuinely unbiased in settling the case.

  1. Opening Statements

This stage of the trial starts with two opening statements, one from each prosecutor and defense. No testifying of witnesses or physical evidence is presented there. First, the prosecutor gives the opening statement as they have the burden of proof. This statement could take longer than the defense statement as it contains more details. The defense mostly waits until the prosecutor's case finalize before presenting its opening statement. The government keeps presenting the facts and figures before the jury to walk them through what they are trying to prove and how the defendant is guilty of the crime in question. The defense provides the jury its clarification of the evidence and tries to convince them about being not guilty.

  1. Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination

Case-in-chief is the heart of the criminal trial, where both parties present their evidence before the jury. Here, the government, based on evidence, tries to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty. The prosecutors at this stage call witnesses to testify and provide other evidence like documents, photographs, and medical reports. The witnesses from both sides take an oath that they will tell the truth. After that, each party will ask questions from the witnesses through the direct examination to strengthen the case. Once the direct examination ends, the opposing party can cross-examine the witness to find any gaps between the witness's story or create doubts about the presented evidence.

  1. Closing Arguments

The closing argument allows the prosecution and defense to sum up the case, reviewing the evidence in favor of their positions. It is the only chance both parties have to explain everything to the jury before the deliberations. So that government can show in the closing argument why the jury declares the defendant guilty based on the evidence. On the other hand, the defense tries to convince the jury that government lacks in bringing enough proof, so they should consider the defendant not guilty.

  1. Jury Instruction

The judge at this stage provides the jury with the set of legal standards that will help them decide the final verdict. Depending on the evidence submitted in the trial and criminal charges, the judge selects the legal standards relevant to the defendant's case. Prosecution and defense often argue in this phase of the trial. The judge explains to the jury every key concept like guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and instructs on the legal principles to reach a fair conclusion. The judge also describes the crime to the jury based on the evidence presented. After every explanation, the case moves to the jury.

  1. Deliberation and Verdict

Deliberation is the process in which, after getting the instructions from the magistrate, jurors decide as a group whether they consider the defendant guilty or not guilty of the offense(s) charged. The deliberation process gives the very first opportunity to the jury members to discuss the case in detail. It is a systemic process that can take few hours to weeks to decide the final verdict. As soon as the jury finalizes the verdict, the jury foreperson notifies the magistrate about it. The judge mainly announces the final verdict in the open court.


If you are pursuing a career in criminal justice, then there are various professions it offers you. It allows you to be in an environment where you can support the victims and help them get justice. You can get a professional degree in criminal justice that can improve the skills and knowledge required in this field. You can learn how to solve criminal cases, explain the stages of trials, and reach a point where you can have fair judgment.

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