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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

Going to trial: What to expect

On Behalf of | Oct 3, 2022 | Criminal Law |

The vast majority of criminal matters do not go to trial in Missouri. Prosecutors try to get plea deals. Plea agreements save them the trouble of preparing to go before the bench and get them the points that enhance their reputation with the district attorney. 

No defendant can afford to navigate the complex legal system without understanding what’s on the horizon. That will determine if you go home or end up in prison.

Going to trial

Going to trial is the defendant’s prerogative (though it’s not unusual for a prosecutor to refuse a plea and go to trial). The defense attorney’s responsibility is to manage strategic decisions. But the final decision belongs to the defendant. They decide to:

  • Testify on their behalf
  • Go to trial or take a plea
  • Assert innocence
  • Forego the appeal

What to expect

A trial is structured to present case facts before a jury and judge. The result is a guilty or not guilty decision. The prosecutor will use any matter they can find as evidence of guilt. Your attorney will counter with arguments that disprove that evidence.

All jurors are indiscriminately chosen, promoting an unbiased view of the case.

Selecting a jury

Jurors get selected randomly from registered voter lists and driver’s licenses. The idea is to create an unbiased pool of candidates that represents a cross-section of a community.

The attorneys and judge will question the juror pool, determining the suitability of each. The system refers to the process as voir dire. The process ends with a selection of 12 jurors and no less than two alternatives to replace jurors in case of an emergency.

You can also have a non-jury trial, letting a judge make the final guilty or not guilty. In a jury trial, the judge acts as a neutral party, guiding jurors through the process of hearing arguments and providing instructions for jury decisions. 

What happens after the verdict

If it’s determined you’re not guilty, you walk out of the courtroom victorious and get to go home.

Should you be found guilty, the court can impose a sentence immediately. You will be taken into custody and begin the process of the state preparing your imprisonment.

The court may set a future date for sentencing. You do have the right to file an appeal. But take note most appeals are rejected as proving the legal grounds to overturn a ruling is incredibly difficult.