What to Expect During a Criminal Trial in Los Angeles

Defendant’s Right to Have a Lawyer

In California, every criminal defendant has the right to legal representation. This right is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one. This is known as a public defender. Defendants can also choose to hire a private attorney. The right to a lawyer is critical for a fair trial. It ensures the defendant’s interests are properly represented. Defense lawyers guide defendants through the legal process. They help in developing and implementing defense strategies.

Jury Selection

Jury selection, also known as “voir dire,” is the first step in a criminal trial. During this phase, prosecutors and defense attorneys select jurors from a pool of potential candidates. The goal is to form a fair and impartial jury. Both sides may question jurors to uncover any biases or preconceived notions. Attorneys have the right to dismiss jurors for cause, meaning there’s a specific reason why the juror might not be impartial. They also have a limited number of peremptory challenges, allowing them to dismiss jurors without providing a reason. The process continues until a full jury, usually 12 members, and alternates are selected. This phase is crucial as it sets the stage for the trial.

Opening Statements

After jury selection, the trial moves to opening statements. This is where both the prosecution and the defense outline their cases to the jury. The prosecution goes first, presenting an overview of the evidence they plan to introduce. They aim to show why they believe the defendant is guilty of the charges. The defense follows, providing a preview of their case. They may highlight weaknesses in the prosecution’s evidence or introduce an alternative narrative. Opening statements are not evidence but serve to give jurors a roadmap of what each side intends to prove during the trial.

Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination

This phase is at the heart of the trial. The prosecution begins by calling witnesses to testify about facts relevant to the case. Witnesses can include victims, bystanders, law enforcement officers, or experts in various fields. After the prosecution examines each witness, the defense has the opportunity to cross-examine them. Cross-examination aims to challenge the witness’s credibility, memory, or the accuracy of their testimony. The defense may also call its own witnesses to support the defendant’s case. Both sides seek to build their narrative through the testimonies presented, influencing the jury’s perception of the facts. This dynamic exchange is crucial for uncovering the truth and ensuring a fair trial.

Presentation of Evidence

Following witness testimony and cross-examination, the next critical phase is the presentation of evidence. Both the prosecution and defense introduce physical evidence to support their arguments. This can include photographs, videos, documents, forensic evidence, and personal items related to the case. Each piece of evidence must be admitted into the record through a process that often involves testimony about its authenticity and relevance. The aim is to provide the jury with tangible proof that corroborates or disputes the verbal testimonies heard. This stage is pivotal, as it allows the jury to visually and tangibly connect with the case’s details, enhancing their understanding and aiding in their deliberation process.

Closing Arguments

After evidence presentation, the trial moves to closing arguments. This is the final opportunity for both sides to address the jury directly. The prosecution goes first, summarizing the evidence and arguing how it proves the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They aim to convince the jury by highlighting the strengths of their case and the weaknesses in the defense’s arguments.

The defense follows, emphasizing the lack of conclusive evidence and any reasonable doubts that exist. They may argue that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof. The defense’s goal is to persuade the jury of the defendant’s innocence or, at least, that there is insufficient evidence for a conviction.

Closing arguments are critical for shaping the jury’s decision, as they encapsulate the key points of the trial and appeal to the jurors’ logic and emotions. Both sides strive to leave a lasting impression that sways the jury in their favor.

Jury Deliberation

Jury deliberation begins after closing arguments. The jurors retreat to a private room to discuss the case. Here, they review evidence and testimonies to reach a verdict. Deliberations are confidential, aimed at ensuring open, unbiased discussions. The jury elects a foreperson to lead discussions and organize votes.

Jurors must consider whether the prosecution has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Deliberations can last from a few hours to several weeks, depending on the case’s complexity. If jurors have questions or need clarification, they can request to review evidence or testimonies again.

A unanimous decision is required for a verdict in criminal trials. If the jury cannot agree, it results in a hung jury, potentially leading to a retrial. Once a verdict is reached, the jury returns to the courtroom to announce their decision.


After jury deliberation concludes, the trial moves to the verdict phase. The jury returns to the courtroom to present their decision. The foreperson announces the verdict, which can be “guilty,” “not guilty,” or, in some cases, “hung jury” if they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision.

A “guilty” verdict means the jury believes the prosecution has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A “not guilty” verdict indicates the jury does not find enough evidence to convict the defendant of the charges.

In the event of a hung jury, where jurors cannot agree on a verdict, the judge may declare a mistrial. This situation can lead to the prosecution deciding whether to retry the case with a new jury.

The verdict is the culmination of the trial process, determining the defendant’s legal fate based on the jury’s assessment of the evidence and testimonies presented during the trial.


If the verdict is “guilty,” the trial proceeds to the sentencing phase. This step determines the penalty for the convicted defendant. Sentencing may occur immediately after the verdict or be scheduled for a later date, allowing time for the preparation of pre-sentencing reports and consideration of mitigating factors.

The judge oversees sentencing, guided by statutory guidelines, the severity of the offense, the defendant’s criminal history, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances presented during the trial or sentencing hearing. Victims may give impact statements, and the defense can present evidence or testimony to argue for a lighter sentence.

Sentencing options can include imprisonment, probation, fines, community service, or a combination thereof, depending on the crime’s nature and severity. In some cases, the law prescribes mandatory minimum sentences that the judge must adhere to.

This phase concludes the trial process, marking the final legal determination of consequences for the convicted individual’s actions.

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney

Navigating a criminal trial requires expert legal guidance to ensure the protection of your rights throughout each phase of the process. Attorney Arash Hashemi, with over 20 years of experience at The Law Offices of Arash Hashemi, offers profound legal expertise for individuals facing criminal charges. From the initial stages of jury selection to the complexities of sentencing, having a seasoned defense attorney can significantly impact the outcome of your case. Attorney Hashemi’s comprehensive approach includes evaluating your case, representing you during critical proceedings, negotiating favorable terms, and advocating for reduced penalties or alternatives to incarceration. For those seeking adept legal representation to navigate the criminal justice system, Attorney Arash Hashemi is available for scheduled consultations. Contact the office at (310) 448-1529 to discuss your case and explore your legal options
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or a prediction of outcomes, as individual circumstances vary and laws may change over time. Those contemplating legal action should seek advice from a qualified attorney to understand how current laws apply to their specific situation. For detailed legal guidance on the topics discussed, please reach out to the author directly.

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