Juries are a crucial part of our legal system; they ultimately decide the guilt or innocence of those who come before the court on matters dealt with in the District and Supreme Court.
There are three ways in which a matter ends up before a jury:
1. The offences are ‘strictly indictable’ – Due to the seriousness of some charges, it is not possible for these to be dealt with in the local court and a consequently the charges must be ‘committed’ to a higher court.
2. The prosecutor elects to have the matter heard by a jury – In some instances, while offences can remain in the local court and dealt with by a magistrate, the Department of Public Prosecution may choose to ‘elect’ to have the matter heard by a jury.
3. The defendant elects to have the matter heard by a jury – In some instances, it may be worthwhile for a defendant to elect and have their case heard by a jury rather than by a magistrate, when a person is charged with certain offences, they may have a right to ‘elect’ to the District Court and this often leads to the matter being heard by a jury.
The Jury Process:
2. Jury Empanelment
3. Prosecution opening statement
4. Defence opening statement
5. Prosecution case
6. Close of Prosecution case
7. Defence Case
8. Prosecution closing statement
9. Defence closing statement
10. Judge’s ‘summing-up’ to the jury and jury directions
11. Jury deliberations & questions
STEP 1: Arraignment
This is where the accused will be ‘arraigned’, the court will read out each count on the indictment (each alleged charge) and the accused person will be asked whether the accused pleads guilty or not guilty. The accused person will reply with his plea to each sequence that is on the indictment.
STEP 2: Jury empanelment
The jury empanelment is where the jurors are selected who will take part in the trial. The Judge will draw numbers out of a box, each number will select a juror who has been summoned for Jury duty. In total the judge will draw 12 jurors.
Each party to the case (i.e., prosecution and defence) will then have the opportunity to excuse three jurors, if a juror is dismissed another lottery pick will fill the seats of those who have previously been dismissed.
STEP 3: Crown’s opening statement
The trial will then begin and the prosecutor who is known as the ‘crown’ will outline what they are alleging the accused did. This is purely a statement by the prosecutor to explain to the jury in a general sense what the Crown case involves.
STEP 4: Defence opening statement
At the conclusion of the Crown statement, defence will be asked if they wish to make an opening statement. The defence doesn’t have to make an opening statement, often it isn’t wise for the defence to make a statement, because in many circumstances it may restrict their version of the case to a specific narrative.
STEP 5: Prosecution case
This is where the prosecution call their witnesses, this may include police officers, civilian and expert witnesses etc.
EXAMINATION IN CHIEF
The prosecution will call their witness and begin ‘examination in chief’. This will allow the prosecutor to ask questions about what they saw, heard, or did relevant to the case. The prosecutor is restricted by the Evidence Act 1995 (Cth) from asking questions such as ‘leading questions’ (i.e., asking a question that is designed to get a particular answer).
The defence will then have the opportunity to ‘cross-examine’ the prosecution witness, this involves challenging the evidence provided in examination in chief. The defence doesn’t have to ask any questions if they don’t wish to, sometimes it may be more prudent not to cross-examine a particular witness. Unlike when cross-examining their own witnesses, a party is not restricted from asking leading questions, this allows them to ask leading questions.
If something arises under cross-examination, the prosecution will have the opportunity to ‘re-examine’ their witness, this allows the party to clarify any points raised under cross-examination.
STEP 6: Close of Crown case
After the prosecution have called all of their witnesses and each has been examined by both parties in accordance with step 5, the prosecution will ‘close’ their case, this will mean that they have presented all the evidence they intend to present to the jury.
STEP 7: Defence
The defence then presents their case, they may do a number of things. This is often a very importance phase of the trial tactically. The defence may do any number of the following:
NO CASE TO ANSWER
If, upon an assessment of the prosecutions case the defence believes that the prosecution cannot establish the offences charged. They can request that the judge direct an acquittal. The judge may only do this if they are satisfied that the Crown has failed to provide the evidence required that would satisfy any reasonable jury to find the person guilty beyond reasonable doubt. If the judge directs an acquittal, the case against the accused person is dismissed and he will be released.
The defence case involves witnesses that may involve the accused person, civilian witnesses or expert witnesses. It is often the biggest question for an accused person at trial, whether they should or shouldn’t give evidence in their trial. There is no obligation on the accused to give evidence, nor can any adverse inferences be drawn from an accused person’s failure to give evidence.
There is a substantial risk in an accused person giving evidence at trial, it is difficult to provide a blanket rule as to when an accused person should or should not give evidence at trial, however considerations such as the accused persons reliability, the strength of his evidence, the strength of the prosecution case and the risk of exposing the accused person to cross-examination.
Defence may also wish to call other witnesses to the stand, much like prosecution witnesses the other party will have the opportunity to cross-examine each witness, so it is extremely important that defence witnesses are reliable and can withstand cross-examination which can be an extremely daunting task for someone who has never been to court before.
STEP 8: Crown’s closing statement
The Crown (prosecution) will then have the opportunity to make their closing arguments, this will include an explanation of what the offences are that the accused person has been charged with and the evidence which would point the jury to convict the accused of those offences. They will explain how they have (in their opinion) satisfied the jury beyond reasonable doubt of all of the elements of all of the offences charged.
STEP 9: Defence closing statement
The defence will then have the opportunity to make one final statement. The sole purpose of this statement is to summarise the case in a way that raises reasonable doubt in the mind of the jury as to the guilt of the accused person. This is often done by pinpointing the elements which have failed to be satisfied, providing a reasonable hypothesis as to what may have actually occurred and pointing out weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
STEP 10: Judge’s summing up & directions
The judge will then ‘summarise’ the case for the jury and explain what the legal and factual issues are in summary. The judge will then have an opportunity to provide the jury with any relevant directions as to what it can and cannot consider in coming to the decision it makes and what it actually has to be satisfied of in order to come to a particular decision.
STEP 11: Jury deliberations
The jury will then be sent away and is able to discuss and review the case in as much or as little detail as required. The jury is entitled to ask questions to the judge, this will often require that the judge provide further directions as to what questions the jury has to be satisfied of in order to find a person guilty of an offence on the indictment.
STEP 12: Verdict
The jury will either come back with a verdict of guilty or not guilty. In some rare cases, a jury may be ‘hung’ and they cannot come to a decision, in this case the judge may order a mistrial and the jury will be discharged. This does not necessarily mean that another trial won’t occur, however it will be up to the Crown to consider the prospects of a conviction.
If the jury returns a guilty verdict, then the matter will proceed to sentence, usually at some later date. This will be discussed in step 13.
If the jury returns a not guilty verdict to all counts on the indictment, then the accused person will be released, and the matter is considered finalised.
STEP 13: Sentence
Sentencing proceedings are where the court determines an appropriate sentence for a person. The prosecution and defence will have the opportunity to provide the court with material related to the accused person, defence may seek to provide the court with a variety of things such as character references, psychologist reports and many more. Both parties also have the opportunity to make submission to the court as to what an appropriate penalty may be, however the judge is not bound by these submissions and may impose any sentence that it considers appropriate based on sentencing principles.
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