The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution entitles you to a jury trial in a criminal case. You will have your proverbial “day in court,” where the prosecution will present the evidence against you in the form of witnesses. You will also have the right to put on your own case. Here is what you can expect at a criminal trial in Wisconsin.
At the outset, it is crucial to know that you are innocent until proven guilty. It is the prosecution that has the obligation to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. If they cannot meet their burden of proof, you would be acquitted of the crime, regardless of whether you have opted for a jury or a bench trial. While you do not need to prove your own innocence, you do need to present your own side of the story that would sow a reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind about the strength of the prosecution’s case.
Opening Statements in Court
After the jury has been selected and seated, the criminal trial will begin with each side making their own opening statements. Before each attorney presents their own case, they will explain to the jury what they are about to tell them. The attorney will give an overview of the evidence that the jury will see and hear so they are prepared for what they will learn. Opening statements will be replete with terms like “you will see” and “you will hear.”
The Prosecution Will Present Their Case
Each side will have the opportunity to present their own case. Prior to the trial, each side will disclose its list of witnesses. The prosecution will have already turned over its evidence to the defense, so you will know what they will be using at trial. The prosecution will call its list of witnesses one by one. The Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution requires that the prosecution present its witnesses in open court. You have the right to cross-examine each witness who is testifying against you. An attorney can ask the witnesses your own questions that are meant to clarify or disprove what they are saying.
The Defense Can Present Their Own Case
Once the prosecution rests its case (it has called all of its witnesses), your criminal defense attorney will begin to present your own case. Your attorney also has witnesses who will tell your side of the story. Crucially, these witnesses could include people who can either state what you did or verify that you have an alibi that places you elsewhere when the alleged crime was committed.
One of the biggest decisions that your lawyer will make will be whether to call you to testify in your case. This is a momentous consideration because testifying in your own case could have definite risks and benefits. On the one hand, you want the jury to hear from you directly and have a chance to see your demeanor and learn your side of the story. On the other hand, the prosecutor can be a very tough questioner, and you do not want them undermining your credibility.
Your lawyer may not make the decision about having you testify until they see how the prosecution’s case has gone. If the prosecutor has not presented a strong case, your attorney may not feel the need to call you to the stand. If your lawyer feels that there is some risk, they may decide that it is worth it to hear from you. Either way, your attorney would need to prepare you thoroughly to testify in court because the prosecutor will get their own chance to cross-examine you.
Closing Statements in a Case
Once each side has presented their case, they will be allowed to make a closing statement to the jury. In a closing statement, the lawyer will explain to the jury what they just heard and how it impacts the ultimate question of your guilt or innocence.
The Jury Will Deliberate and Reach a Verdict
The judge will give the jury instructions about the law that they need to consider once they deliberate in your case. They will explain the elements of each alleged crime. First, the jury will find the facts in the case, considering the evidence and witnesses testimony. Once they find the facts, they will then apply the law in reaching their own conclusions about whether the prosecution has proven the crime. The jury will vote on each charge against you. Wisconsin law requires that the jury unanimously vote to convict you of a crime. Depending on the vote, you could be acquitted of the charges entirely (a majority vote of “not guilty”), or there may be a mistrial (one or more “holdout jurors” but no guilty verdict).
When the jury has reached a verdict, the foreperson will read it in open court. If the jury has reached a guilty verdict, the court would then proceed to the sentencing phase of the case, where the judge would consider aggravating and mitigating factors in reaching their sentencing decision.
Realistically, most Wisconsin criminal cases do not reach a trial. However, you need to be prepared to go that far with the help of an experienced attorney, especially when you have valid legal defenses to the charges against you. Your attorney should have significant experience in the courtroom to be able to effectively present your case.
Contact an Appleton Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor crime, you need legal representation immediately. Any moment where you do not have a lawyer is one where your legal rights may be at risk. The attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff are fierce advocates for our clients at all stages of the criminal justice process. If it is necessary, we are not afraid to take your case to the courtroom to help you get the best legal result. To schedule a free initial consultation with a lawyer, you can contact us online or call us today at (920)-450-9800.