Jury trials in Wisconsin

If you don’t settle your case through plea negotiations you have the right to a jury trial.

In Wisconsin, all 12 members of the jury (potentially a jury of 6 in misdemeanor cases) must agree unanimously that you are guilty or not guilty of each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.  If there is a reasonable doubt as to any element of the crime, the jury must find you not guilty.

A trial can be broken down into four main parts:

  • Voir Dire: Voir dire is translated as “To speak the truth.”  Selecting the jury is the first step of trial.  The purpose of jury selection is to ensure that no juror is biased and that they will give the defendant a fair trial.  Voir dire is an opportunity for your criminal defense attorney to give jurors a sneak peak into what the trial will be about.  Studies have shown that up to 80% of jurors make up their minds about guilt based on facts they get during questioning and what they hear during opening statements.  Jurors can be swayed at any point of trial, but the first parts of trial remain extremely important.
  • Opening Statement:  In the opening statement both sides speak to the jury about what they intend to prove at trial.  The opening statement provides an opportunity for your criminal defense attorney to point out the strengths in his case and the weaknesses in the State’s case.  It’s important that the defense attorney not embellish the facts, as a smart prosecutor will come back and point out the defense’s failures.
  • Presentation of Evidence:  Since the State has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, it presents its case first.  The defendant then presents its case.  The prosecution is then given a chance to respond to the defense’s case by rebutting its evidence.
  • Closing:  After both sides have presented their evidence, attorneys from both sides make a final argument about the case.  This often involves each side discussing how the presentation of evidences bears on the elements of the crime.  It also involves pointing out the weaknesses in the other side’s case.  After the closing, the jury is tasked with determining whether the defendant is guilty or not.

At different points during trial, jury instructions are read to the jury.  Jury instructions are basic instructions to guide the jury through the process.  They includes instructions about evidence, instructions about objections, instructions about credibility, instructions about the elements of the crime, and many other topics.  There are hundreds of different jury instructions.  Whether each instruction is read in each trial depends on whether that instruction is relevant to the case.

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