Buffalo, NY Criminal Defense Lawyers Explain How Trials Work

Buffalo, NY Criminal Defense Lawyers Explain How Trials Work

The Arraignment: The First Court Appearance

The arraignment is typically the first time a defendant appears in court after being arrested. This brief hearing is when the formal criminal charges are read and the defendant is asked to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

Arraignments in Buffalo happen at the centralized arraignment court located in the Erie County Holding Center. Defendants are entitled to have an attorney present at the arraignment. As a defense lawyer, I always recommend hiring counsel before this initial hearing.

An experienced lawyer can advocate for lower or no bail, negotiate with the DA, and advise you on entering the best plea.Bail may also be set at the arraignment to allow a defendant to be released until trial. If bail is set too high, we can file a motion to try and get it reduced to an affordable amount.Once the plea is entered, the next court date is set to begin the pretrial process.

The Prosecution Presents Their Case First

The prosecution goes first in presenting evidence and witnesses to the jury. The DA will aim to call witnesses and experts that help prove my client’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

As the defense lawyer, I’ll have an opportunity to cross-examine each witness. My goal is to undermine their credibility and cast doubt on their version of events.

I’ll also look for chances to draw out testimony that supports my client’s innocence.Some common prosecution witnesses include:

  • Arresting police officers
  • Eyewitnesses or victims
  • Forensic experts like crime scene technicians or medical examiners
  • Informants or cooperating witnesses

The prosecution will also introduce physical evidence like surveillance video, documents, weapons, medical reports, and more. I’ll scrutinize this evidence closely for any chain of custody issues or other ways we can rebut it.

After the prosecution rests their case, we have the option to file a motion to dismiss if we feel they presented insufficient evidence for a conviction. But these motions rarely succeed. In most cases, it’s on to presenting the defense’s side of the story.

The Defense Presents Their Case Next

After the prosecution rests, it’s the defense’s turn to call our own witnesses and present evidence. But first, I’ll advise my client on whether or not to take the stand in their own defense.Testifying can be risky – it opens them up to tough cross-examination from the DA. But sometimes it’s the best way to get their side of the story in front of the jury. Either way, the final choice belongs to the defendant.

If they do testify, I’ll conduct a direct examination asking open-ended questions that allow them to clearly explain what happened from their perspective.Other common defense witnesses are:

  • Fact witnesses like alibi witnesses or eyewitnesses that contradict the prosecution
  • Character witnesses to vouch for the defendant’s reputation
  • Expert witnesses to rebut forensic or scientific evidence

I can also introduce physical evidence that supports my client’s innocence. The goal is to create reasonable doubt by presenting an alternative sequence of events or interpretation of the evidence.

Closing Arguments Summarize Each Side’s Case

After all evidence has been presented, the trial moves into closing arguments. This is the final chance for both sides to address the jury before deliberations. The prosecution delivers their closing first, aiming to summarize the strongest points proving the defendant’s guilt. As the defense, I’ll then have a chance to deliver my closing highlighting the flaws in the state’s case and reasonable doubts about my client’s culpability.

Closing arguments are all about persuasion and storytelling. I craft a compelling narrative from the defense perspective that gives jurors a convincing reason to find my client not guilty .Once closings are complete, the judge instructs the jury on the relevant laws and sends them back to the deliberation room to reach a verdict.

The Jury Deliberates to Reach a Verdict

Behind closed doors, the 12 jurors will discuss and debate the case to try and reach a unanimous verdict. This can sometimes take hours or even days depending on the complexity of the evidence and whether jurors strongly disagree.

If the jury becomes deadlocked, the judge may give additional instructions urging them to try harder to reach consensus. But if they still cannot agree, a mistrial results and the case may be retried with a new jury.Once the jury reaches a verdict, they notify the judge and the parties return to the courtroom. The lengthy wait for the verdict to be read is often extremely tense and emotional.

If the verdict is not guilty, my client is free to go and the charges are dismissed. But if they are found guilty, the judge will schedule a sentencing date where I can argue for the lowest possible penalty under law. While not perfect, our jury system is designed to ensure every defendant receives a fair trial and just outcome. As a criminal defense lawyer, I take great pride in playing my role to uphold justice and protect the rights of the accused.