All persons charged with a federal crime have the right to a jury trial. In theory, a federal criminal trial should start within 70 days after the indictment is filed. In practice, it usually takes more than 70 days to prepare for trial and to hold hearings on motions.
In any event, a speedy trial often serves the interests of the government more than the defense. Allowing time for the prosecution to lose its enthusiasm and for witnesses to lose their memories often results in a better outcome for the accused, even if the defendant is detained pending trial.
How Your Federal Drug Trial Will Unfold
If your case proceeds to trial, the first step is the selection of an unbiased jury. Attorneys submit questions that are intended to uncover any hidden prejudices that prospective jurors might have. The defense is entitled to strike a specified number of jurors from the panel for any reason. Defense attorneys use those strikes to weed out prospective jurors who are likely to side with the government. The remaining panel members become the jurors. They listen to the evidence and decide upon a verdict.
The prosecutor and defense attorney make opening statements to the jury, outlining the evidence they expect to be presented. The prosecutor then calls witnesses. The defendant’s attorney is entitled to cross-examine those witnesses. Cross-examination is among the most powerful weapons in the defense attorney’s arsenal. A skillful cross-examination can expose lies and destroy the credibility of government witnesses.
The government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense has no burden to prove innocence. The defense is entitled, but not required, to present witnesses. In some cases, to demonstrate the weakness of the government’s evidence, it makes sense to present no defense, relying instead on the government’s failure to overcome reasonable doubt about guilt.
The defendant is entitled, but not required, to testify. The defendant’s attorney will discuss the risks and potential rewards of testifying, but whether to testify is ultimately the defendant’s decision.
After all the evidence is submitted, the prosecutor and defense attorney will make closing arguments to the jury. This is the defense attorney’s opportunity to highlight the weaknesses in the government’s case. The judge will then instruct the jury about the applicable law that the jury must apply.
After the jury is instructed and has heard the closing arguments, it will retire to a private room to deliberate. The jury must return a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty. Occasionally, when a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the case ends with no verdict. After a “hung jury,” the government will need to decide whether to bring the defendant to trial a second time.
If the jury finds the defendant not guilty of all charges, the defendant is released from bail and the charges are dismissed. The protection against double jeopardy prevents the federal government from bringing the same charges again. If the defendant is found guilty, the case is set for a sentencing. The defendant will then need to consider pursuing an appeal or other post-conviction remedies.
Contact an Attorney Today
The right to a jury trial is among the most important protections that the Constitution makes available to a criminal defendant. If you are charged with a federal drug crime, you need a defense attorney who has significant trial experience, contact Hamilton Grant.