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Los Angeles Criminal Jury System



A lot of people don’t realize where a jury comes into play and when it doesn’t.  One thing I use the jury system concept for is to evaluate a case.  So, when someone comes in and they’re talking about their case and on the one hand they realize there’s some evidence against them; and then on the other hand, they’re trying to argue that they didn’t do anything wrong, I always balance it up against the jury system.

In other words, if the case went to jury trial would you be found innocent or guilty?  If we can clearly see that you would be found guilty because they’ve got the evidence against you — witnesses, video — whatever the case may be — then obviously, we’re going to have to work out a plea bargain and we’ll set the stage in order to do damage control and convince the prosecutor that you’re a good person and don’t deserve to go to jail or prison.

Obviously, we’re going to look at the circumstances of your case — what you’re charged with — in deciding exactly how we’re going to handle the case.

That’s really what you’re going to match it up against.  If you’ve got a case that you could actually win at a jury trial and you don’t feel that you have to plead guilty because you didn’t do anything wrong, then we know what we have to do.

Twelve Jurors Deciding The Case

We have to take the case to jury trial and all twelve jurors have to unanimously find that you’re not guilty.  Then you’re done and you can walk away.  If all twelve find that you are guilty, then you will be convicted and the judge will have the discretion as to what your punishment/sentence is going to be.Los Angeles Criminal Jury System

If nobody can agree — in other words, some thing not-guilty; some think guilty — no matter what the split is, that’s gonna end in a mistrial or a hung jury and then the government will have the choice whether to try you again or whether the case will just be dismissed.  There are motions that can also be filed with the judge if it’s a hung jury to try to get the judge to dismiss the case as well.

Obviously, at that point the split in the hung jury makes a difference.  If it’s eleven for not-guilty and only one for guilty, then that seems to be a good indication they should just dismiss the case.  They’re going to have a real hard time getting a conviction.  If, on the other hand, it’s eleven for guilty and one for not-guilty, they may retry the case.

So, the jury system is extremely important because, in my opinion, it’s the last stop.  In other words, when you’re trying to figure out a criminal case and try to get a hold of it, a lot of times people are nervous, they’ve lost control, they don’t know what to do, they’re afraid they’re going to go to jail — they’ve got all of these issues swirling around in their head — but that jury trial really is where the buck stops.

Decision to Negotiate Case of Go To Jury Trail

In other words, I’ll say to my client, we have two roads.  There’s not a third road.  There’s two roads.  Road number one is we try to negotiate with the prosecutors or convince the prosecutors to dismiss the case.

If the prosecutors will not dismiss the case and you don’t want what the prosecutors are offering to settle the case — no problem — then you have to take road number two, which is you go to jury trial and the jury decides whether you’re innocent or guilty.

It’s as simple as that.  So, in my opinion, that really starts to cut out the confusion for people.  They see what’s going on and a lot of times they’re upset.  They don’t like what the prosecutors are trying to get them to take.

So, the answer is, if you don’t like what the prosecutors are trying to get you to take, then you can fight the case and you can attempt to be found not-guilty in the case, and if you’re found not-guilty you can move on with your life.

How the Jury System Works

So, the way that the jury system works is once you decide that you’re going to go to trial, you get assigned to a trial court and various courts throughout Los Angeles county — there’s approximately twenty-five courts in LA’s jurisdiction — have different ways of doing things as far as assigning a court.

Sometimes you get sent to a court after a preliminary hearing and that’s your court.  Other times, once you say you’re ready for trial, they send you to what’s called a master calendar court and then that court doles out all of the jury trials depending on other courts’ availability.

All that court does is operate as a stopping ground in order to find a court for you once you’re ready for trial and then once you get sent into the court what ends up happening is the attorneys meet with the judge prior to the trial.

They talk about what the trial is going to be about, how long the trial is going to take, how many witnesses there’s going to be and they also talk about whether there’s going to be any pre-trial motions by either side to try and block evidence from coming in.

A lot of times what the judge is really trying to do is figure out what problems can he or she resolve before the trial starts.  Because it’s a real pain in the neck when you’ve got a jury sitting there waiting and you want to get the case finished and lawyers are arguing over issues that could have been handled prior to the case getting under way prior to picking a jury.

Once you’ve dealt with any pre-trial litigation then a panel of jurors will be ordered — usually about fifty to sixty depending on availability — and then the process of voir dire where the judge asks a bunch of questions of the jurors — typically the lawyers get to ask some questions as well.

Then the preemptory challenges will be used by each side if they don’t feel that a juror is going to be fair to their case, ultimately ending in twelve jurors being picked and usually two or three alternate jurors in case there’s some issues with the jurors that are picked and then the trial will start because the prosecutors have the burden, they will be the ones that put on evidence first.

They’ll be opening statements before the evidence gets put on and then the People of the State of California through the District Attorney or City Attorneys in Los Angeles will put on their evidence.

After they’re done, the defense will have a choice whether they want to put on any evidence or not.  The defense can also just rest on the state of the evidence and make the argument to the jury that the prosecutors have not proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt; and therefore, the defendant should be found not-guilty and they can certainly make arguments in the closing argument that support their theory of the case.

Jury Deliberations and Decision on Guilty or Not Guilty

Then the case is given to the jury.  The jury will decide whether the person is guilty or not-guilty of each charge that is charged in the information and if the person is found not-guilty, they’re done.

The jury is excused and that’s the end of the case.  If they’re found guilty, typically a sentencing date will be set in the future.  Sentencing position papers will be filed by each side and ultimately, the judge will decide at that point what the sentence is going to be.

That’s why you obviously don’t go to a jury trial if you’re going to lose the case because then the sentence will be out of your control and the judge will have the choice of what to give you versus if you work out a resolution with the prosecutors, you will know exactly what your sentence is going to be and you can have some certainty in that regard.

So, that’s the jury trial system.  It is a sometimes complex system.  Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out exactly how things are going to go and that’s why most cases that are filed in Los Angeles county in my experience are resolved by way of a negotiated plea between the prosecutor and the defense attorney, or the defense attorney can convince the prosecutor to dismiss the case because there’s some issues related to the case that the prosecutors didn’t know about when they actually filed the case.

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Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

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