Zero Tolerance

Step 3 : Trial

The first phase of a Jury Trial is the Jury Selection or “Voir Dire”. In a case involving the charge of Zero Tolerance the Jury Selection will normally take ½ day. Effectively questioning the potential jurors and selecting those jurors that will be impartial and fair throughout the Trial is an art form. It has to be done with skill and confidence. Once the 6 jurors are selected, they become the Jury that will decide whether to find the defendant Guilty or Not Guilty. The Jury holds the future and fate of the defendant in their hands.

A Jury Trial in a case of Zero Tolerance begins with the Opening Statements by the prosecution and defense attorney and quickly moves into the prosecution’s Case-In-Chief. That is the time when the prosecutor will call police witnesses, eyewitnesses, and expert witnesses for one purpose – to convict the defendant of the charged crime. Solid cross-examination by an experienced defense attorney has to occur. You only get one chance to win. The difference between a conviction and an acquittal is often on very narrow grounds and requires strong advocacy by an attorney that is experienced in the courtroom. After the prosecutor presents its case, the defense will present its Case-In-Chief. The defendant may testify and other witnesses in support of the defense will testify at that time. After all the witnesses have testified, the attorneys will make their Closing Arguments, the Judge will instruct the Jury on the law, and the Jury will then be sequestered to decide its Verdict. The entire Jury Trial process will normally take between 1-2 days depending on the number of witnesses and the time the Jury takes to determine its verdict. A verdict of Not Guilty will result in the immediate release of the defendant and the dismissal of the Zero Tolerance charge. A Guilty verdict will require that a Sentencing date be scheduled.

If the defendant enters a guilty plea or is found Guilty at trial in Washtenaw County, the case is set for Sentencing, which normally happens about 4 weeks after the conviction is put on the record. After the conviction is entered in open court, the defendant will be ordered to speak to someone in the probation department about his/her criminal history, upbringing, life circumstances, and the incidents leading up to and including the offense. The probation officer reviewing the case will prepare a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report that summarizes the important facts of the case for the Judge to review at the time of Sentencing.

The last stage of the criminal trial process in Washtenaw County is the Sentencing date. A skilled defense attorney can often mitigate someone’s sentence by proper investigation, preparation and advocacy during Sentencing. Although there are sentencing guidelines which are set by law and provide a framework for the Judge to determine the sentence length, both the prosecution and defense lawyer will provide input and argument at Sentencing about the appropriate sentence. Once the Trial Judge pronounces the defendant’s sentence, there is normally nothing else that can be done to change the sentence other than the appeal process, which can take years to complete. Strong defense advocacy can often mitigate an otherwise indefensible Zero Tolerance sentence.