What Happens During a Murder Trial?


Sep 14, 2012
The recent “loud music” trial in which Michael Dunn, the defendant, was convicted of some charges, but not of first-degree murder, has confused many about the way a murder trial works. As a qualified Miami criminal defense attorney can explain, there are a lot of moving parts in any felony trial, but especially a murder trial, that makes it difficult to follow. Murder trials are conducted by the government, led by a prosecutor, not by a private citizen. Murder is considered a crime against the community, not just against the victim, so the government takes responsibility for trying the case. Multiple Charges with Different Elements to Prove In a murder trial there can often be multiple charges brought by the prosecution.  For instance, in the Jacksonville, Florida, “loud music” trial there were three counts of attempted second-degree murder, one count of shooting into a vehicle, and one count of first degree murder.  Each one of these charges has different standards, or legal elements, that must be met in order to be proven. Attempted second-degree murder requires: 1. The offender, or defendant, takes some sort of action towards killing someone 2. The offender’s intent was to kill a person First-degree murder, which is the more serious charge, requires: 1. The offender, or defendant, takes some sort of action towards killing someone 2. The offender’s intent was to kill a person 3. The victim died as a result of the offender’s actions 4. The offender acted with some sort of malice (or intent to harm or pre-planning) Shooting into a vehiclerequires: 1. The offender “wantonly or maliciously” 2. Shoots with the capability of causing great bodily harm or death, 3. Any vehicle (including cars, buses, or trains). As you can see, each of these crimes has entirely different elements that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendant.  Each one of these charges have to be argued over the course of the trial.  The jury is then asked to make a decision on each one of the charges separately according to the specific instructions that the judge gives them. Steps in a Murder Trial Murder is a felony.  Felonies are crimes punishable by over a year in prison.  Alternatively, misdemeanors are crimes with a maximum sentence under one year. In a murder case, as in other felonies, there are several steps that must be taken.  Before the trial, the prosecution must file the charges in the court, as well as initiate a grand jury that would have to determine whether to indict the defendant.  By indicting the defendant, the grand jury will permit the prosecution to move forward and initiate a trial. Once in the trial itself, the prosecution will begin the trial with an opening statement discussing why it believes the defendant should be found guilty.  Next, the defendant will present an opening statement describing why he should be found not guilty.  The prosecution will present evidence and witnesses to support its argument.  After that, the defendant will present his own evidence and witnesses.  Each side can call the other side’s evidence into question or “cross” witnesses, or question their credibility or knowledge. The judge or jury will then determine guilt.  If found guilty, the judge will then have to determine the sentence for the defendant. Incoming search terms: what happens during a murder trial