What Is a Court Trial? - Definition, Process & Rules

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  • 0:00 Court Trial Definition
  • 0:34 Pre-Trial Process
  • 2:09 Trial Process
  • 2:53 Rules of the Court
  • 4:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Janell Blanco
In this lesson, we'll define a court trial, discuss the process, and look at the general rules of a court trial. After this lesson, you can check your knowledge with a quiz.

Court Trial Definition

A court trial, also called a bench trial or a jury trial, is when all the facts of a case are heard, and a judge or jury makes the final decision about the court case. An offender can waive their rights to a jury trial and just have the judge make the ruling in a bench trial. A bench trial is different than a jury trial because a jury trial has a panel of an individual's peers make the final decision. There are several processes that take place in a court trial, so let's take a look at those.

Pre-Trial Process

The process for a court trial may vary by each courtroom. We will look at a basic outline of a court trial. The first part of a court trial is the process that takes place before the actual trial. During this process, the offender has to be read their charges. The offender must also be made aware of the consequences of the crimes they are being tried for.

After they have been read their charges, the offender is given the option to have a jury trial or a court trial. The offender is also given the opportunity to obtain legal counsel. If they cannot afford a lawyer, this is the point when the court will appoint a lawyer to represent the offender.

The offender will then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the offender has requested counsel, they will then plead not guilty, an attorney will be appointed and the court case will be continued, and the date will be set for a preliminary hearing. The judge will also have to set bail for the offender if they have pleaded not guilty.

A preliminary hearing is held. Here, the state must demonstrate that there is enough evidence to charge the offender and enough probable cause to show that a crime has been committed. Once the preliminary hearing shows there is enough evidence to try the offender, a trial date is set. If the offender has chosen to have a jury trial, then the jury selection will begin. If the offender has chosen a bench trial, then there will be no jury selection and the judge will hear the evidence. A trial date is the date on which the judge will hear testimony of witnesses, review all the evidence, and make a final ruling. There is a process to the trial, and we'll explore that further.

Trial Process

At the trial, both sides the will give their opening statements. The opening statements will state why the state feels the offender is guilty and why the offender feels they are innocent. After the opening statements, the evidence will be presented and witnesses can be called and asked questions. Each party can then give rebuttals to the evidence or the witness statements.

Once the rebuttals are done, both sides give their closing statements. The judge or the jury then takes all the information presented and makes a ruling. After the judge or jury gives its ruling (or verdict), the judge will sentence the offender. During each part of the court process, there are rules that need to be followed. We'll now look at the rules in place during a court trial.

Rules of the Court

One of the most basic rules, a rule that many learn in elementary school, is to not speak out of turn and not interrupt others when they are speaking. In the courtroom, the same rule applies. One does not speak unless called upon and simply does not interrupt the court proceedings. The judge frowns upon anyone who disrupts the court and might even hand down a contempt of court charge. Contempt of court means interrupting the court proceedings and can result in fines or jail time.

Other basic rules of the court include the following:

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