Superior Court Trials
In part two of our trial series, we looked at how district court trials work.
This blog will focus on Superior Court trial procedure. If you read our previous blog about district court trials, you’ll know that in Superior Court you have the choice of either a bench trial (when the judge decides the verdict) or a jury trial (when a jury of your peers decides the verdict). Where as in district court, you do not get the option, it is strictly bench trials.
Procedures in Superior Court
Cases heard in Superior Court have additional steps. First, if this is a jury trial, it starts with the selection of the 12 jurors. This is called ‘voir dire.’ During voir dire, both, the State and the Defendant can ask questions of the prospective jury members about their background, possible bias, conflict of interest, etc.. Thereafter, a jury trial follows the same proceedings as in a bench trial (though opening statements in Superior Court are much more common).
In jury cases, before the jury retires to make their determination of guilt or innocent, the Judge will read instructions to the jury regarding elements of the alleged crimes, as well as explanations regarding the standard of proof of ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.’ If the jury finds the Defendant guilty, then the Judge makes a determination of what sentence to impose, after hearing arguments by both the State and the Defendant as to what they believe the sentence should be. For bench trials (whether in District Court or Superior Court), the Judge makes the determination of guilt or innocence as well as sentencing. If the Judge finds the Defendant guilty, then the case proceeds as previously mentioned.
It’s also worth mentioning, prior to the start of a trial, the Defense can submit pretrial motions. Pretrial motions are a request to have a ‘pretrial’ hearing before the Judge (whether District Court or Superior Court) to make a ruling involving evidentiary and/or constitutional issues. Examples of pretrial motions would be circumstances in which there was lack of reasonable suspicion of a crime to stop the Defendant, there was not probable cause to arrest or cite the Defendant, a search warrant issued lacked probable cause, the State failed to turn over all the evidence to the defense, etc.