Criminal trials by jury    

 

This is a quick guide to what happens in a criminal trial by jury in the New South Wales District or Supreme Court.

The case is called into the court and the charges are read formally to the accused person. The accused is asked how they plead the charges: guilty or not guilty.

What happens next depends on the plea made by the defendant. 

Guilty plea

  • If the accused pleads guilty the matter proceeds to sentencing

  • The prosecutor, who represents the state, will read out the facts, including the accused's prior criminal record

  • The accused or his or her lawyer will respond to the charges and give the information she or he wants to be taken into account when the judge decides the sentence

  • The judge can sentence the accused immediately or postpone sentencing until a later date  

Not guilty plea

If the accused pleads not guilty, then the matter proceeds to trial.

  • A jury is sworn in (unless a decision has been made to conduct the trial with a judge alone). In most cases the jury consists of 12 people but in long trials in the Supreme Court 15 people may be sworn in

  • The prosecutor, who represents the state, makes opening remarks and calls witnesses to give evidence

  • The accused or his or her lawyer can question or cross-examine the witnesses about the evidence they have given

  • The defending party presents their witnesses. The other party or their lawyer gets to cross-examine the defence witnesses

  • The prosecutor can raise issues in reply to the defence case

  • The prosecutor and the defence representative each address the jury

  •  The judge sums up and gives directions to the jury

  • The jury goes out to deliberate

  • The jury returns and delivers a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If the jurors disagree they may advise that they cannot deliver a verdict

  • If the verdict is not guilty (an acquittal), the accused is discharged and is free to leave

  • If the verdict is guilty, the judge will set a date for sentencing

  • If there is a hung jury, where the jurors cannot reach a decision, then the matter can be referred for another trial on a future date by a different jury

In the district court, if the accused pleads not guilty and has been committed for trial, the first date he or she attends is usually for a call-over or arraignment to confirm the charges and the plea. 

A date for trial will then be set when witnesses can attend to give evidence. In some cases, witnesses may not attend at all. For example, in some district court appeal hearings, the judge reads the transcript of the evidence given by witnesses at the local court instead of the witnesses attending again. 

Find out more about the role of witnesses and giving evidence.

 

 

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