What to expect in a Criminal Trial in the USA?

Criminal law in the United States of America persecutes individuals or a group of individuals for committing a crime, that causes loss or injury to another person. The Judicial process for a criminal case differs from a civil case in various ways. For instance, the U.S attorney represents the United States on behalf of the injured in criminal prosecutions. Whereas, in civil cases, the case proceedings happen between two private parties.

There are important elements of a criminal trial that are important to establish the guilt of the accused and to receive punishment accordingly. For this, the Criminal Code places a “burden of proof” on the accusing party, which in this case is the Government.

The defendant, on the other hand, must refute the evidence relied upon by the aggrieved to prove their innocence in the matter at hand. In criminal cases, the defendant must be found “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” to be convicted of the crime they are being accused of. This principle exists to protect people from wrongful incarceration and places heavy reliance on the evidence to prove the accusation.

Another element to the criminal trial is “Actus Reas” which translates into “guilty act”. This principle requires proof that the act was voluntarily committed by the accused. For this the accused must have a motive and intention, often known as “Mens Rea” (guilty mind), to commit the act. The criminal Code also punishes a failure to act in some cases. For example, not paying taxes is a criminal offense and requires an omission of an activity that a person had a responsibility to carry out.

The criminal procedure holds a pretrial and trial stage as well. In the pretrial stage, the Judge reviews the arrest and all the post-arrest investigation reports to decide whether judicial charges must be applied to the accused or not. The Judge also decides whether the accused should be held in jail under trial or can get bail. By way of this process, the Judge determines whether there Is a probability of the crime being committed by the accused. At this point, if any defendant is unable to secure a lawyer, the court will also appoint one, as is their constitutional right. If the Judge allows for bail, the defendant will be released. However, the Judge may impose electronic monitoring, drug testing, or requirements of periodic reports, before allowing the defendant to be released.

During the trial process, the court adjudicates upon the evidence and testimonies presented by both parties to determine the guilt of the accused. At the end of the trial process, the accused may be released if found not guilty or may be charged again for the same offense in a federal court. The government may also appeal a non-guilty verdict and defendants should be prepared for such contingencies.

The Code allows for defenses that the accused can use to prove their innocence. Defenses like self-defense, defense of property or necessity, intoxication, or mental instability are some of the grounds on which the accused can argue to not be held criminally responsible for their actions.

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