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The Consequences of a Criminal Trial

In a criminal trial, a jury examines the evidence to decide whether, "beyond a reasonable doubt," the defendant committed the crime in question. A trial is the government's opportunity to argue its case, in the hope of obtaining a "guilty" verdict and a conviction of the defendant. A trial also represents the defense's chance to refute the government's evidence, and to offer its own in some cases. After both sides have presented their arguments, the jury considers as a group whether to find the defendant guilty or not guilty of the crime(s) charged. (Note: Although a trial is the most high-profile phase of the criminal justice process, the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved well before trial -- through guilty or no contest pleas, plea bargains, or dismissal of charges.)

Jury Deliberation and Verdict

After receiving instruction from the judge, the jurors as a group consider the case through a process called "deliberation," attempting to agree on whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the crime(s) charged. Deliberation is the first opportunity for the jury to discuss the case, a methodical process that can last from a few hours to several weeks. Once the jury reaches a verdict, the jury foreperson informs the judge, and the judge usually announces the verdict in open court.

Most states require that a jury in a criminal case be unanimous in finding a defendant "guilty" or "not guilty." In such states, if the jury fails to reach a unanimous verdict and finds itself at a standstill (a "hung" jury), the judge may declare a "mistrial," after which the case may be dismissed or the trial may start over again from the jury selection stage.

Innocent - You are found "Not Guilty" of the crimes charged. This typically results in your release from custody, or your bail is returned and you are free to resume your life. Generally, anyone who has been acquitted of a criminal charge or has had it dismissed is eligible to have any record of that arrest expunged, or wiped clean. But it's not automatic. You have to ask the court. Also, it's a good idea to check and see if the records have actually been expunged, even if a judge has signed off on it.

Guilty -

 
     
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