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Jury and Non-Jury Trials in Oklahoma Criminal Courts

Jury Trials vs Non-Jury Trials

Every criminal defendant facing an Oklahoma felony charge has an Oklahoma and United States Constitutional Right to a jury trial. In my opinion, if a case is worth trying its worth trying to a jury. I have had almost fifty (50) jury trials and I would rather try a case to the first twelve (12) people walking down the street than any judge in the state. I'm not saying anything bad about our state judges, I just really believe in our jury system.

Jury Selection

Every Jury trials begin with jury selection. (Of course if it is a judge or a "bench" trial this step is not necessary.) Jurors are called to the courtroom and the judge's clerk randomly selects the potential jurors for the case by drawing their names out of a box. The judge will then question the potential jurors to ensure that each juror meets the appropriate qualifications. Jurors must live in county they are jurors in and they cannot be convicted felons. The judge asks questions to determine if there is any reason that a juror cannot be fair.

Once the judge is finished with the initial questioning the district attorney handling the case questions the potential jurors. After the district attorney is finished questioning the jurors the defense will be allowed to question the jurors. If during the questioning either the attorney for the state or the defense uncovers a reason that they believe an individual juror cannot be fair that side can ask the court to excuse that juror for cause. If the judge excuses that juror another juror will be called to replace that juror.

After each side has passed the jury for cause each side begins exercising their preemptory challenges. In non-homicide cases each side is allowed five (5) preemptory challenges. In a homicide case each side is allowed nine (9) preemptory challenges. Each side can exercise its preemptory challenges for any reason that it desires but it cannot exercise them for the wrong reason, potential jurors cannot be excused on the basis of their race, religion or gender. After each side has exercised their preemptory challenges the remaining jurors are the jury that will hear the case.

Opening Statements

After the jury is selected the next step in the trial process is the opening statement. Since the state has the burden of proof, the attorney for the state will give the opening statement first. The opening statement is the time for each side to explain to the jury what they anticipate that the evidence will be; a sort of road map to the expected evidence. Parties are not allowed to argue the evidence in the opening statement. The defense can either give their opening statement at the beginning of the trial or reserve their opening statement until the beginning of the defense case.

Presentation of Evidence

After the opening statements have concluded the state begins presenting their case. The state will call witnesses to the stand and ask those witnesses questions designed to elicit the relevant testimony. During the witnesses testimony both sides have the opportunity to introduce exhibits such as physical evidence, written statements, video statements, photographs and videos.

After the state conducts its direct examination the defense is allowed to cross-examine the witness in order to elicit favorable information not brought out in the direct examination or to discredit the credibility or testimony of the witness. After the state has finished presenting its evidence the state will rest and the defense will be allowed to present its evidence if it chooses to do so. The defendant has a constitutional right to testify if he or she desire and if the defendant chooses not to testify than no mention of the defendant's choice can be made by the prosecution.

The above described process will be repeated until both sides have introduced all of the admissible evidence that they desire to introduce. If during the course of the trial there is a dispute concerning the admissibility of evidence that dispute will be resolved be the judge after hearing arguments of both parties and reviewing the applicable law.

Instructing the Jury

After the close of all the evidence the Judge will instruct the jury on the applicable law. Jury instructions are concise statements of the law designed to give the jury the law that they need in order to decide the case. The judge decides the applicable law but the jury applies the law to the evidence to determine the facts of the case. Most of the instructions are selected from the Oklahoma Uniform Jury Instructions known as OUJIs. OUJIs can be found on the internet on the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network.

Closing Arguments

Since the state has the burden the state will give the first closing argument and the final closing argument. During the closing argument the state will review the evidence and argue reasonable inferences from that evidence. After the conclusion of the state's first closing argument the defense will be allowed to give its closing argument. Then state will conclude with its final closing argument.

Deliberations

After hearing the evidence in the trial, listening to the jury instructions and the arguments of counsel the jurors retire to deliberate their verdict. The verdict of the jury must be unanimous whether for guilt or innocence. If the jury is unable to decide the case a mistrial will be declared and the state has the option of retrying the defendant for the charges. If a jury reaches the verdict the jury will announce its verdict in open court.

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