If you plead not guilty, the judge will set a trial date. Sometimes the trial date is very soon after arraignment and sometimes it is not. The trial will be conducted by a United States District Judge. The facts will be determined by a jury. The trial process includes pre-trial motions, jury selection, opening statements, direct and cross examination of government witness, motions, direct and cross examination of any witness(es) the defense elects to call, closing statements, jury instructions, jury deliberations, verdict and post-trial motions. You and your lawyer should discuss these concepts and how they affect your case before you ever walk into the courtroom for jury selection.
A WORD OF CAUTION: Over the years I have tried cases in front of juries in state and federal court. I have represented corporations and individuals. I have been in big cities and small towns. I have worked with world class criminal defense attorneys including Joe Cheshire, Pete Anderson, Tommy Manning, David Rudolph, Joe Gilbert, Joseph Ross, Debra Graves and others. I have learned most of the information contained in this book from watching and listening to these and other brilliant and talented lawyers.
These experiences have taught me that the lawyer standing beside you can be the difference between spending the rest of your life in prison and walking out the front door. They have also taught me that you can hire the best lawyers, prepare the best defense, put on the best trial and still be found guilty by a jury. At the end of the trial, your lawyer is going home with or without you at his or her side. Be careful about your decision to go to trial. Your objective is not to be tough, or brave, or smart, or cool. Your objective is to be home.
In addition, it is important that your lawyer have federal trial experience. Although most cases are resolved without jury trials, it is your lawyer’s ability to try cases to juries that gives him or her leverage. Leverage is the primary tool used to negotiate favorable plea agreements in federal court. If your lawyer never tries cases, why would the prosecutor ever give you any favorable term? What is your lawyer going to do about it? The ability and willingness to try difficult cases in difficult circumstances is what gives a lawyer the leverage to negotiate the best possible plea agreement with the prosecutor. Once you have the best possible plea agreement, you are in the best possible position to make a decision about whether you should plead or try your case.
After a trial, if you are found “not guilty” by the jury you will probably be free to leave. If you are found “guilty”, you will be sentenced at a sentencing hearing. The judge will set the sentencing hearing a few months after the trial and order to give the probation officer time to prepare a Pre-Sentence Report.