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The Order of a Criminal Trial in Arizona

Criminal trials in Arizona have an order (or course or plan) that is governed by the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. Any criminal case can be counted on to follow this order:

1. Opening Statements of the Parties

The lawyers for the parties are each entitled to give an opening statement at the beginning of the trial. The opening statement is limited to a description of the facts that the party believes the evidence will show. The parties are not allowed to argue about conclusions during the opening statement. For example it would be improper and objectionable for one of the lawyers to argue "here's why you should believe Witness Smith rather than Witness Jones." Instead, the lawyer is technically limited to say something to the effect of "you will hear from Witness Smith who will tell you 1, 2, and 3…," and you will hear from Witness Jones who will tell you A, B, and C." The prosecutor is given the first opportunity to deliver an opening statement. The defense typically follows with their own opening statement. Occasionally, the defense may choose to defer their opening statement until after the prosecution has rested its case.

2. The Presentation of the Prosecution's Case

After the opening statements, the prosecution has a chance to present its case through witnesses and exhibits. Both are presented through the questioning of witnesses. The party calling the witness (in this case the prosecutor) must examine the witness through the use of "open ended" questions. In other words, the question may not suggest an answer to the witness. Instead, the substance of the answers must come directly from the witness's mouth. It would be improper for the prosecutor to ask of Smith – "isn't it true that Jones pulled the trigger?" The other side however, (in this case the defense), may then ask leading questions to challenge the witness – "isn't it true that you weren't wearing your glasses on the night in question?" Exhibits are offered through the testimony of witnesses. In order for an exhibit to be admitted, one or more witnesses must provide a minimal attestation to the exhibits authenticity and relevance. When the prosecution has called its last witness and admitted its exhibits, it then "rests its case."

3. Challenge of the Prosecution's Case

As soon as the prosecution rests, the defense typically challenges the strength of the evidence through a directed verdict or Rule 20 Motion, suggesting that the prosecution hasn't provided enough evidence to convict the defendant of the charges. In ruling, the court must accept the evidence as true and evaluate whether it would be sufficient to show guilt. More often than not, these motions are presented summarily because the prosecution normally has enough evidence to meet this standard – even if not enough to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt!

4. The Defense Case.

The defense then puts on its case in the same way the prosecution put on its case, except with the roles reversed. Often, because the defense has no burden of proof, the defense need not put on any case at all. The rules for the questioning of witnesses and the offering of exhibits are the same for the defense as they are for the prosecution.

5. Argument and Jury Instructions

The last stage of the trial is for closing arguments and instructions to the jury. The judge instructs the jury as to what the law is, e.g., here are the facts that the prosecution needed to prove in order for you to find the defendant guilty. The lawyers at this stage have the chance to argue. Instead of being limited to a straightforward presentation of facts, they are now allowed to suggest why some facts are better than others. "You should not believe what Smith has to say because he is the investigating detective's brother." "You should not believe what Jones has to say because she was not wearing her glasses when she observed the incident. After argument and instructions, the case goes to the jury.

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