Elements & Purpose of the Criminal Trial

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  • 0:17 Criminal Trials
  • 0:55 Elements
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about criminal trials. We will look at what the purpose of the criminal trial is and the elements that make up the trial process from the beginning to the end.


When an individual breaks the law in the United States, he is entitled to a trial as one of his constitutional rights. During this lesson, we will learn about the purpose of the criminal trial and what different elements make up the criminal trial.

Criminal Trials

The criminal trial is when two parties, a prosecutor representing the government and a defense attorney representing the accused, meet in court before a judge or jury in order to present evidence to support their case. The purpose of criminal trials in the United States is to ensure that an individual accused of a crime receives a fair and impartial evaluation of the situation in order to determine if he is guilty or not. In furthering this goal, there are several elements that make up the criminal trial to protect the defendant's rights along the way.


The first element of the trial process is called voir dire. This is the process of jury selection. During this process, the attorneys for both sides ask the potential jurors different questions regarding the case in order to find out if there is something that would make it inappropriate for them to sit as a juror on that particular case. Once these questions are asked, each party gets a part in selecting and releasing some jurors.

The next element of the trial process is called opening statements. These are the statements that are given by each party, in turn, at the beginning of a trial. These statements are not considered formal evidence; they are merely each attorney's view of what the evidence will show.

The third element of the trial process is called witness testimony. This testimony is a witness's account of the incident at issue given while under oath. Before a witness testifies, he or she takes an oath to tell the truth. Then, the prosecutor has a chance to ask the witness questions, also known as direct examination. Then, the defense has a chance to ask the witness questions under cross examination.

The fourth element of the trial process is closing arguments. These are statements given by each side explaining what the evidence showed and how it relates to the crime that the defendant has been charged with. Like opening statements, closing arguments are not considered evidence. During closing arguments, the prosecution and defense will make a summary of their case against the other side and what they feel the evidence showed.

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