Anatomy of a Trial

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

The trial process is a pivotal aspect of criminal procedural law, demonstrating how the constitution, laws, and court precedents are applied in real-world situations. A trial is a legal proceeding where parties present evidence to a judge or jury to decide on contested issues, whether they be of fact or of law. Let’s delve deeper into this fascinating process.

Steps in a Trial

Trials, especially in criminal cases, follow a structured set of steps to ensure fairness and adherence to legal principles. These steps include:

Jury Selection

Also known as voir dire, this is the process of selecting individuals from the community to form the jury. Attorneys for both sides have the opportunity to question potential jurors to assess any biases that might affect their decision-making.

Opening Statements

Once the jury is selected, each side presents an opening statement. The prosecution, which carries the burden of proof, goes first. This is an opportunity for each side to provide an overview of their case, though it’s important to remember these are not evidence.

Presentation of Evidence

The heart of the trial is the presentation of evidence. The prosecution presents first, calling witnesses and introducing evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense follows with its own witnesses and evidence to create reasonable doubt or establish a defense.

Closing Arguments

After all evidence is presented, both sides deliver closing arguments. This is an opportunity to tie together the evidence and argue how it meets or fails to meet the legal standards for conviction.

Jury Deliberation and Verdict

The jury then deliberates, discussing the case in a private, secluded area. When they reach a decision, or if they’re unable to do so, they return to the courtroom to deliver the verdict.

Landmark Cases

Several notable Supreme Court cases have influenced how trials are conducted. Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), for instance, ruled that the Constitution requires states to provide counsel to defendants in criminal cases who cannot afford their own attorneys. This landmark decision clarified the Sixth Amendment‘s right to counsel, ensuring fairness in criminal proceedings.

In Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966), the Court held that a defendant was denied a fair trial due to excessive press coverage. It served as a critical precedent for understanding the extent of the 6th Amendment’s guarantee of a fair trial.

Lastly, Batson v. Kentucky (1986) held that a prosecutor’s dismissal of jurors based on their race violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This case has had profound implications for jury selection processes across the United States.


The anatomy of a trial unfolds in a series of carefully choreographed steps aimed at ensuring justice. From jury selection to the final verdict, every phase is essential in the pursuit of a fair and equitable trial. Landmark cases like Gideon v. Wainwright, Sheppard v. Maxwell, and Batson v. Kentucky have shaped our understanding of trials, reinforcing the constitutional protections that safeguard all individuals in the justice system.



Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  07/24/2023

[ Back | Content | Next]

This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


Print for Personal Use

You are welcome to print a copy of pages from this Open Educational Resource (OER) book for your personal use. Please note that mass distribution, commercial use, or the creation of altered versions of the content for distribution are strictly prohibited. This permission is intended to support your individual learning needs while maintaining the integrity of the material.

Print This Text Section Print This Text Section

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.