Criminal Trials in New York State (United States of America)

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Judge – Works for the People of New York. The judge is in charge of maintaining a fair trial. He or she is “The Boss” of the courtroom. He or she decides if evidence is “fair” or “not fair” to present to the jury.

Bailiff – The police officer that must maintain control in the courtroom. The bailiff is always in custody of the defendant and will take the defendant to jail if the defendant is found to be guilty of the crime. If people get unruly[1] or violent during the trial, the bailiff is there to protect everyone in the courtroom.

The Jury – 12 people are chosen from the local community. They are supposed to be the “peers” of the defendant (similar in age, economic class, culture). These are the people who decide if the defendant is guilty[2] or innocent[3].

Witness – Experienced the crime first hand[4] or has other first hand knowledge of evidence that will be useful in the trial

Stenographer – This person keeps a typed record of everything that is said in court during the trial.



Prosecuting Attorney – Works for the State of New York, wants the Defendant to be convicted[5] and sentenced[6].


Defense Attorney – Works for the Defendant. Wants the Defendant to be acquitted (found innocent).

Defendant – Is accused of a crime.   Would like to be found innocent and remain free to go home.


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Opening Statements – The Attorneys from each side gives a short speech about what they are going to try to prove during the trial.

Presenting Evidence – The Prosecution presents physical evidence[7] that supports their side of the argument.

Calling Witnesses

  • Prosecuting Attorney calls and questions a witness
  • Defense Attorney gets to cross-examine each witness called by the Prosecution
  • Prosecution calls and questions their next witness
  • When the Prosecution has called all of his/her witnesses, Defense Attorney calls and questions his/her witnesses and the Prosecuting Attorney gets a chance to cross-examine.

Objecting – Either attorney can object to any question being asked if they feel it is not a fair question to ask or that it is illegal to ask such a question

The judge will then decide whether the objection should be:

Sustained – Judge agrees that the question cannot be asked

Overruled – Judge believes the question is legitimate and should be answered

Closing Statements – Each Attorney gives a short speech summarizing to the jury the courtroom events during the trial that strengthened their argument.

Jury Deliberation – Once all of the information has been presented by both the prosecution and the defense, the jury goes into a private room in the courthouse and votes on whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. For almost every criminal trial in New York State, the jury must reach a unanimous[8] decision. When a decision is reached, the 12 members of the jury return to the courtroom, everyone in the courtroom stands up and one member of the jury reads the official verdict[9].

If the jury cannot agree, it is considered a hung jury and the trial is considered a mistrial. The defendant will be given another trial at a later date.

[1] Out of control

[2] Committed the crime

[3] Did not commit the crime

[4] First hand = directly saw, heard, smelled, felt or tasted

[5] Found guilty

[6] Given a punishment (be given a fine, go to jail, be executed)

[7] Proof

[8] Unanimous = Everyone (all 12 jurors) agrees

[9] Verdict = Final of “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”, made by the jury

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