A jury trial is the last stage to determine guilt or innocence in a criminal case at the district court level. If all other avenues have been exhausted, such as plea bargaining, pre-trial contested motions, possible pleas to the court, and the defense and prosecution cannot come to an agreement, then you have the right to a trial by jury.
Any charge punishable by possible imprisonment gives you a right to jury trial. Therefore, in misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony level offenses, you can decide to have a trial by jury. In petty misdemeanor cases, which do not have possible jail time, you only have the right to a Court Trial. That trial is a trial in front of a judge only who will determine your guilt or innocence.
In misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases, a jury of six will hear the trial. In felony matters, a jury of twelve will decide the outcome. At the outset of the trial is voir dire, or jury selection. This is a process where the judge, defense attorney, and prosecutor will ask questions of the jury to determine whether any possible jurors have possible biases that would prevent them from trying a case fairly. At the conclusion of voir dire, the defense attorney and the prosecutor will each strike possible jurors from the panel. The defense attorney gets five strikes and the prosecutor gets three. The parties may also challenge a possible juror for cause to get them removed from the panel, which will not count against their strikes.
Once the jury is selected and sworn in to hear the case, the prosecutor will likely make an opening statement followed by the defense. Then, the prosecutor will present its case to the jury with witnesses and evidence to try and persuade the jury that the defendant is guilty of the crime(s) charged beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney may also cross examine each prosecution witness. The rules of evidence will also apply during the trial.
At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the defense attorney may call witnesses and present evidence in support of their arguments. Importantly, they do not have to call any witnesses at all. The defendant has the right to remain silent during the entire trial and is not forced to testify on their behalf.
At the conclusion of the defense’s case, the process generally proceeds to closing arguments. This is the time for each side to argue to the jury why they believe you should rule in their favor. The prosecutor will start with its closing argument followed by the defense. At the conclusion of the defense’s closing argument, the prosecutor may make a rebuttal closing argument. At that time, the judge will give the jury any final instructions before they are sent off to deliberate the outcome of the case.
Most importantly, the jury must unanimously find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for the defendant to be convicted of the crime(s) charged. If the jury unanimously determines the prosecution did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, then the defendant is found not guilty. If they jury cannot agree unanimously on either outcome, then the jury is hung, and the judge may determine a mistrial or encourage the jurors to keep deliberating. If a mistrial ultimately is the end result, then the prosecution may decide to re-try the case.