Welcome to the first day of trial. This article was written after the trial occurred. Each day was packed with information. My hope is to simplify and present that information in a meaningful manner.
Before beginning, I want to give a little bit of background information regarding the case.
The charge against the defendant was Burglary, which is a felony in the first degree. The defendant, his spouse, and her friends started the night out early, going from bar to bar. Eventually, they ended up at a final bar to close out the night. As the bar approached closing time, the defendant and the bar owner exchanged some heated words resulting in the defendant being tackled in the bar by security. After the scuffle, the defendant and some of his friends let the bar.
The bar had a policy that once the patrons leave the bar, they are not allowed back onto the premises.
Once outside, the defendant’s friend believed that another friend was being assaulted by security inside. Consequently, the friend and the defendant ran back inside, despite the bar owner’s attempts to stop the reentry. Once the defendant regained entry, the bar owner pepper sprayed the defendant. At that point, the defendant drove the bar owner into the wall causing an injury. Afterwards, the defendant walked back out of the bar and the owner followed and pepper sprayed the defendant again.
To find the defendant guilty of burglary in the first degree, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant unlawfully entered a structure with the intent to commit a theft or assault.
9:00 am – 9:15 ppm
The court opened the record by discussing a motion that was made before trial. The motion was made to prevent the defendant from discussing the lack of training policies of the bar where the incident took place. The purpose of this discussion was whether the defendant’s attorney would read certain portions of their opening statement.
After hearing the arguments, the judge determined that there was nothing in the opening statement that would be prevented by the earlier motion. Therefore, the defendant could read the full statement.
9:15 am – 12:05 pm
Each potential juror was provided a number before entering the courtroom and sat in an assigned seat. Following the seating, the jury was provided an admonition from the court, instructing them to not discuss the case with anyone (even amongst themselves). Additionally, the jury was sworn in by the court.
The court then provided the jury with some background information about the case, introduced the attorneys, and discussed how voir dire would function. Further, the court asked if any of the jurors knew any of the court personal, including the attorneys, judge, or court reporter. Finally, the court asked if any jury members had time commitments preventing them from participating on the jury. Several jury members were excused for:
- Caretaking obligations
- Travel for work
Voir dire is the practice where the attorney’s ask specific jury members questions. The purpose is so the attorneys can become familiar with the juror personalities and understand their perspectives on the law. This is also an opportunity for attorneys to introduce the case and begin to establish a theme for the trial.
The state went first asking their questions and took about 25 minutes. After some independent questioning (both state and defendant questioned a few jurors outside the presence of the rest of the jury because there were some concerns) which took about 15 minutes, the defendant took about 58 minutes for voir dire.
The independent questioning resulted in one juror being excused for knowing some of the individuals involved in the case.
After questioning, each attorney exercised 8 strikes. The strikes alternated between the parties, starting with the state. Although they did not read the juror’s names, the simply said, “the State exercises it’s first strike.” After the strikes, the judge read the names of the selected jury members. Although there would be two alternates, those alternates will not be known until the jury begins to deliberate. The dismissed jurors would not be called for another two years.
The selected jury is again admonished and sworn in.
12:10 pm – 1:15 pm, start at 1:30
The party who has the burden of proof starts with their opening statements. In criminal cases this is always going to be the prosecution.
An important note regarding opening statements is that the ideas presented are not evidence. The purpose is to paint a picture of what each side is going to focus on.
About 15 minutes.
The opening statements for the state was presented by a Drake University Law School student who was assigned to work on the case as part of Drake’s clinical program. The structure of the opening statements followed a three part chapter systems focusing first on the facts (background of the case), then the law (elements to prove, justification of self-defense), then inviting the jury to use their common sense.
About 45 minutes
The defense opening statements also followed a chapter structure focusing first on the argument, expectations of how witnesses will testify, and outlining the law. The goal of the defense was to provide many “plausible alternatives” to show that the state did not meat their burden and that the facts are ambiguous at best.
Following opening statements, the court took a fifteen minute break. However, before the break, each member of the jury was provided with a notebook to take notes (they aren’t required to take notes) of the case. At the end of each day, the notebooks would be collected so the jury was not able to take those notes home or risk losing them.
At this point, the state began to present their “case in chief.” That means that the state will first call all of their witnesses before the defense calls all of their witnesses.
Thus, the state called their first witness, which was sworn in.
There are three parts to examining a witness. The party calling the witness first engages in “direct examination.” After the direct examination, the opposing party engages in “cross examination.” Then, the original party “redirects” the witness with any final questions.
Rather than approaching the witness, attorneys will question from the lawyer bench, usually sitting. Because of the unique set up of the Drake Clinic Courtroom, the defense attorney stood and approached a podium for their questioning.
About 1 hour 10 minutes.
The questioning of the witness has three purposes:
- Build credibility
- Introduce exhibits
- Describe the exhibits through a story.
All evidence must be introduced through a witness to be admissible.
Any objections made by the questioning is either sustained or overruled by the judge.
The goal of the cross examination is to impeach the witness. Impeaching a witness is to “catch them in a lie.” Impeachment targets the credibility of the witness. Just like the direct, the cross examination may introduce exhibits and evidence. On cross, the attorneys are also allowed to ask the witness leading questions, a luxury not available during direct and redirect.
Finally the redirect seeks to rebuild the credibility of the witness by responding to key questions asked during the cross.
After the redirect, the witness is excused and the state is free to call their next witness.
About 45 minutes on Day 1. This time was all utilized by the state and follows the same procedure outlined above. At this point, the court found it appropriate to take a break and end the first day of trial.
Below is a list and explanation of the objections made during the first day of trial.
- Relevance – The question does not address the incident.
- Hearsay – The testimony or question asks the witness to describe information heard form another source (not firsthand).
- Speculation – Asking the witness to make assumptions.
- Beyond Scope – Typically made against cross examination for going beyond what was asked on direct.
- Legal Conclusions – The attorney makes a statement for the witness to simply agree to instead of asking the witness to tell a story.