Part 2: Criminal Trial Procedure in District Court
In our previous blog post about the differences between bench and jury trials we went over how they differ. This blog will go over how a trial actually works. Remember, district and superior court have different rules and procedures.
Cases in District Court usually do not start with opening statements (though the option is available). If there is no opening statement, the District Attorney will call their witnesses and present evidence. This is called ‘direct examination.’ During their questioning, they are required to limit their form of questioning to open-ended questions – that is, they cannot lead the witness to the answer they want.
Once the State finishes their initial questioning of the witness, they inform the court they are done with their direct examination of that witness. The Defense can then perform cross-examination. During cross examination, the Defense can ask the State’s witness questions, and are specifically permitted to ask ‘leading questions,’ meaning, they can imply, by their questions, what answer they expect the witness to provide.
Once the Defense is done with their cross examination of the witness, the State has the option to ask the witness follow up questions. This is called ‘redirect.’ Once the State is done with redirect, the Defendant is allowed to ‘recross’, meaning, they are allowed to ask follow up questions to the witness. Redirect and recross can continue until both the State and the Defense are done with that witness.
The State is allowed to call as many witnesses as they would like (except call the Defendant as a witness), and each witness is examined as previously mentioned. Once the State ‘rests’, they are done presenting their whole case. The Defendant can then call their witnesses and present evidence if they choose to (there is no requirement the Defense calls any witnesses). If the Defense does call witnesses, the Defense is limited to open-ended questions and the State is permitted to ask the Defense’s witnesses leading questions. This continues in the same format as previous mentioned.
It’s important to note at this point that the decision of having the Defendant take the stand in their defense is the Defendant’s decision. Neither the defense attorney nor the State can compel the Defendant to testify. Closing arguments come last and then the Judge’s decision and sentencing terms if the Defendant is found guilty.
Looking for information on Superior Court trials? Check out our blog on Superior Court trial procedures!