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In this lesson, we’ll define a court trial, discuss the process, and look at the general rules of a court trial. After this lesson, you can check your knowledge with a quiz.

Court Trial Definition

A court trial, also called a bench trial or a jury trial, is when all the facts of a case are heard, and a judge or jury makes the final decision about the court case. An offender can waive their rights to a jury trial and just have the judge make the ruling in a bench trial. A bench trial is different than a jury trial because a jury trial has a panel of an individual’s peers make the final decision. There are several processes that take place in a court trial, so let’s take a look at those.

Pre-Trial Process

The process for a court trial may vary by each courtroom. We will look at a basic outline of a court trial.

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The first part of a court trial is the process that takes place before the actual trial. During this process, the offender has to be read their charges. The offender must also be made aware of the consequences of the crimes they are being tried for.

After they have been read their charges, the offender is given the option to have a jury trial or a court trial. The offender is also given the opportunity to obtain legal counsel. If they cannot afford a lawyer, this is the point when the court will appoint a lawyer to represent the offender.The offender will then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the offender has requested counsel, they will then plead not guilty, an attorney will be appointed and the court case will be continued, and the date will be set for a preliminary hearing.

The judge will also have to set bail for the offender if they have pleaded not guilty.A preliminary hearing is held. Here, the state must demonstrate that there is enough evidence to charge the offender and enough probable cause to show that a crime has been committed.

Once the preliminary hearing shows there is enough evidence to try the offender, a trial date is set. If the offender has chosen to have a jury trial, then the jury selection will begin. If the offender has chosen a bench trial, then there will be no jury selection and the judge will hear the evidence. A trial date is the date on which the judge will hear testimony of witnesses, review all the evidence, and make a final ruling. There is a process to the trial, and we’ll explore that further.

Trial Process

At the trial, both sides the will give their opening statements.

The opening statements will state why the state feels the offender is guilty and why the offender feels they are innocent. After the opening statements, the evidence will be presented and witnesses can be called and asked questions. Each party can then give rebuttals to the evidence or the witness statements.Once the rebuttals are done, both sides give their closing statements. The judge or the jury then takes all the information presented and makes a ruling. After the judge or jury gives its ruling (or verdict), the judge will sentence the offender. During each part of the court process, there are rules that need to be followed.

We’ll now look at the rules in place during a court trial.

Rules of the Court

One of the most basic rules, a rule that many learn in elementary school, is to not speak out of turn and not interrupt others when they are speaking. In the courtroom, the same rule applies. One does not speak unless called upon and simply does not interrupt the court proceedings. The judge frowns upon anyone who disrupts the court and might even hand down a contempt of court charge. Contempt of court means interrupting the court proceedings and can result in fines or jail time.

Other basic rules of the court include the following:

  • Arrive at court on-time
  • Speak clearly
  • When the judge enters and leaves the courtroom, everyone is to stand
  • No food or drink in the courtroom
  • Anyone speaking to the judge must stand
  • The only time a person can approach the judge is when instructed to do so
  • Weapons are not allowed in the courtroom, unless they are part of the evidence being presented
  • No use of cell phones in the courtroom and they are required to be turned off
  • Dress appropriately – meaning do not wear cut, ripped, or torn clothing (Tank tops and hats are also not a good idea to wear either.)

These are just some of the basic rules of a court trial. Each individual court can have more specific rules for the trial.

Lesson Summary

A court trial can be a bench trial or a jury trial. What does this mean? It means that the offender either chooses to have a judge hear the case and waives their right to a jury trial, or they choose to have a jury hear their trial. A jury is made up of a panel of the offender’s peers who decide the verdict.In the pre-trial process, the offender is given their charges and told the consequences that those charges can bring. The offender then chooses if they want a jury trial or a court trial and is also asked if they have an attorney or need help obtaining one. The offender will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, a preliminary hearing will take place to show there is enough evidence to charge the offender, and a trial date will be set.At the trial, both sides will give testimony and present their evidence.

The judge or jury will issue a ruling on the case. Each courtroom has their own set of rules for a court trial, but interrupting the court can result in a contempt of court charge. The rules are fairly simple and can almost be considered common sense. Lawyers will inform the offender and the witnesses about the rules of the court before the start of a trial.

Court Trial Vocabulary & Definitions

  • Court Trial: accused offenders receive their day in court to try and prove innocence
  • Bench Trial: accused may choose to wave a jury trial and be heard by only a judge
  • Jury Trial: accused automatically would be judged by a group of his or her peers
  • Preliminary Hearing: the state shows their case and it is decided by a judge if there is sufficient evidence for a court trial
  • Trial Date: if enough evidence is found by a judge, a date for the trial of the accused is set
  • Contempt of Court: when rules of the court are broken they can result in punishment for this offense

Learning Outcomes

Completion of this lesson can help you do the following:

  • Describe a court trial
  • Illustrate the process of the court when the state accuses someone of wrongdoing
  • Define ways in which someone may be accused of contempt of court

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