The Anatomy of a Jury Trial

Jury trials are often dramatized on television and in movies.  The plot of several popular TV shows revolves around the courtroom drama between prosecutors, witnesses, defense attorneys, and judges.  The accuracy of the portrayals of jury trials varies from show to show.  In a general sense, here is how “real life” jury trials unfold in Indiana.

The first day of all jury trials start with jury selection, commonly referred to as voir dire.  Voir dire is latin for “to speak the truth.”  Voir dire starts with a panel of several citizens randomly selected from the community that are reporting for jury service.  Usually, the judge will fill up the jury box with 12-14 of these individuals while the remaining people in the panel sit in the gallery so they can listen and watch.  The prosecutor and defense attorney each have a limited amount of time to speak to the panel about anything other than the specific evidence in the case at hand.  After each round, the prosecutor and defense attorney use their peremptory strikes to remove potential jurors from the panel.  Each side has 5-10 peremptory strikes, which can be used to remove any potential juror for any reason other than gender or race.  In cases in which the lead charge is a level 5 felony or higher, the process continues until 12 jurors are seated.  In misdemeanor and level 6 felony cases, the voir dire process continues until 6 jurors are seated.

Once a jury is selected, both the prosecutor and defense attorney give their opening statements, or a preview of what each side believes the evidence will be in the case.

After opening statements, the state begins their case in chief, in which the prosecutor calls witnesses to present testimony and evidence.  Once the prosecutor is done with his/her questioning of a witness, the defense attorney has the ability to cross examine the witness.  Typically, defense attorneys utilize cross examination as a way to attack the state’s evidence and the witness’s credibility.  After both sides have completed their questioning of a witness, the jurors have a chance to ask the witness questions as well.  Jurors must write their questions down, at which point the judge will determine if each question is legally admissible, and if so, the question will be asked of the witness.  Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney have the opportunity to follow up on any juror questions that are asked.

After the state has presented all of its evidence, the defense has the opportunity to present evidence if they wish.  The defendant has the right to remain silent and cannot be compelled to testify.  In most cases, the defendant exercises this right and does not testify.  Sometimes, however, such as when self-defense is at issue, it is necessary for the defendant to present his side of the case.

Once the defense rests its case, the state has the ability to present rebuttal evidence.  Although rare, there are times when the prosecutor feels it necessary to recall witnesses to address evidence put forth by the defense attorney.

After all evidence has been presented, the prosecutor and defense attorney give closing statements.  Closing statements are a summation of the evidence and the case and is the final opportunity for each side to sway the jury one way or the other.  Because the state has the burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor has both the first and last word.  After the prosecutor gives the jury its first closing statement, the defense attorney presents its entire closing argument.  The prosecutor, as mentioned before, then gets to rebut the closing given by the defense attorney before the jury is sent to deliberate.

Clearly, jury trials are an extremely involved process and require hours upon hours of preparation.  Do you have a case that you believe is appropriate for a jury trial?  Contact the experienced attorneys at Banks and Brower anytime at 317-870-0019 or by emailing us at info@banksbrower.com.