Understanding the Criminal and Civil Justice Systems

Here is a brief synopsis of the criminal trial procedure: Opening statements are given by both attorneys. The State calls witnesses to the stand in order to prove that the defendant is guilty as charged. The prosecutor’s questioning of each State witness is called “direct examination.” The witness is then “cross-examined” by the defense attorney. After cross- examination, the witness is given “redirect examination” by the prosecutor and “re-cross examination” by the defense. The witness is then dismissed, unless either attorney plans to call the witness back to testify later. Once dismissed, witnesses may usually remain in the courtroom. After the state has presented all its witnesses, the defense will present its witnesses, going through the same procedures of direct and cross- examination. The defendant is not required to testify in the case. After all the evidence has been presented, each side may introduce witnesses to rebut testimony previously presented. Sometimes this rebuttal testimony comes from former witnesses not previously dismissed. Sometimes they are new witnesses. Each side presents closing arguments. Typically, the prosecutor summarizes the evidence before the defense argues and then rebuts the defense’s arguments.


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