The Trial Commences
What Happens At Trial?
The trial of a person charged with a felony is held in district
court before a judge and jury of twelve (12) people, randomly selected, who will determine
whether the accused is guilty. Misdemeanor cases are tried in metropolitan or magistrate
court before either a judge, (bench trial), or a judge and a jury of six (6) people. The
verdict is based on testimony of witnesses and evidence presented according to New Mexico
Trials follow certain procedure. Some of the events that you
should be aware of are as follows:
In their opening statements the
district attorney and the defense attorney outline the evidence expected to be presented.
Opening statements are not evidence, but are only explanations by the attorneys of what
each side expects the evidence to prove. A defense attorney may give an opening statement
immediately after that of the district attorney or at the close of the State's case.
Likewise, a defense attorney may elect to give no opening statement at all.
STATE'S CASE: The district attorney on behalf of the state
will present evidence against the defendant. This begins with the State attorney's direct
examination of the witness. Next, the defense attorney may cross examine the witness. Upon
completion, the district attorney may again question the witness. This is called redirect
DEFENDANT'S CASE: After presentation of evidence for the
State has been completed, the defense attorney may present witnesses for his/her side.
This is the usual procedure. However, since the burden to prove the defendant committed
the alleged offense is on the State, the defense need not present any evidence if they
choose, and the defendant is not required to testify on his/her behalf.
JURY INSTRUCTIONS: Jury instructions precede closing
arguments. At this time, the judge will inform the jury of the issues to be decided and
the rules of law that apply to the case.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS: At the conclusion of all of the
evidence, closing arguments will be presented. Closing arguments are not evidence, but are
only summaries by both sides of the evidence presented during trial from their respective
viewpoints. The State goes first, followed by the defense attorney. The State is then
allowed a rebuttal argument.
JURY DELIBERATIONS: After receiving instructions and
hearing closing arguments, the jury considers the evidence and decides whether the
defendant is guilty.
JURY VERDICT: Jury deliberations are concluded when a
unanimous verdict has been reached. When this is done, the jury returns to the courtroom
and the jury verdict is announced. If the jury is unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict,
the judge will declare a mistrial. This means that a new trial will probably be scheduled
at a later date.
How Do I Testify?
Witnesses naturally feel apprehensive about their first
appearance in court because they do not know what to expect. The following suggestions
should help you prepare for your court appearance.
If you have been served by a subpoena, bring it to court with you.
The subpoena will provide information on when and where to appear.
If you are going to testify about records, familiarize yourself
with them before trial.
The trial of a criminal case is a serious matter.
While in the courthouse, conduct yourself in a dignified matter.
A neat appearance is important.
Do not try to memorize what you will say in court, but try to
recall just what you observed at the time of the incident.
Remember, jury members are ordinary people just like yourself.
Don't be embarrassed. Speak frankly and loudly enough for them to hear you.
Look at the jurors and speak to them when testifying. A jury
considers attitude, facial expressions, and body language when evaluating testimony.
DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER.
DO NOT EXAGGERATE.
Do not hedge on questions or try to argue with the attorneys.
LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THE QUESTIONS.
If improper, an attorney
will object. Never answer a question you don't understand or give a snap answer without
thinking. Have the question repeated if necessary.
If you can't answer a question yes or no, you should say so.
Directly and simply answer
ONLY the question asked. DO
NOT volunteer information.
If your answer was not correctly stated, correct it immediately.
Do not give your opinions or conclusions unless asked.
Testify only to the
FACTS you observed or know, not what
you think about those facts.
You will be asked to take an oath to tell the truth. Remember the
seriousness of this oath during the entire time you are testifying. If you willfully fail
to tell the truth while testifying, you may be subject to penalties for perjury.
If asked whether you have discussed the case with anyone, you
should indicate any occasion that you have talked with the prosecutor, defense attorney,
If the judge interrupts or an attorney objects to your answer,
stop answering immediately. Likewise, if an attorney objects to a question, do not begin
your answer until the judge tells you to do so.
NEVER attempt to talk to a juror about the case
or any other matter while the case is being tried. This includes chance meetings during
recesses, in hallways, at lunch, or any other place.
When possible, look at the jurors when answering questions. They
are the people who need the information you possess.
Will the Defendant Be Punished?
If a defendant is convicted of a criminal offense, the judge will
determine the appropriate sentence. The trial judge generally has some discretion in what
specific punishment is ordered. This discretion must be exercised in accord with the
sentencing guidelines enacted by the New Mexico Legislature.
Sentencing will occur following the preparation of a
investigation report. A pre-sentence investigation report is prepared by a court officer
who obtains the victim's statement and gathers information on the defendant's criminal
history. The victim's statement is your opportunity to tell the judge the injuries you
suffered and the crime's affect on your life and finances. The victim's statement must be
considered by the court when the defendant is sentenced. As a victim, you have the
right to be present at sentencing and address the court.
The trial judge also has the authority to place the defendant on
probation. Probation may include supervision by the Adult Probation Office, work release,
or a house arrest program. This procedure permits the courts to try to fit the particular
punishment to the crime and the defendant.
Can The Defendant Appeal The Conviction?
It is possible that the case in which you testify will be
appealed if the defendant is convicted. This is a right guaranteed to the defendant.
When the case is tried in district court, the convicted defendant may appeal. There is no
trial or testimony during the appeal. The appeal is "on the record" which means
the appellate court will consider the transcript of the proceedings at trial.
Will The Defendant Pay Me For The Loss?
A victim may be reimbursed for damages or losses suffered as a
result of a crime if the court orders the defendant to make restitution. "Restitution"
means the defendant must compensate the victim. To assist the court in determining the
amount of restitution, keep any receipts, bills, or estimates regarding the loss.
What If I Need An Interpreter?
Foreign language interpreters and interpreters for the hearing
and/or speech impaired are available. If you are in need of interpreting services while
testifying, contact the prosecuting attorney.
Will I Be Compensated For My Court Appearance?
Certain restrictions apply to compensation for out of state
witnesses. Again, contact the District Attorney's Office for further information.
Am I Eligible For Crime Victim's Compensation?
Victims of violent crime may apply for money under the New Mexico
Crime Victims Compensation Program. An application form may be obtained through the
District Attorney's Office.
What Happens After The Defendant Is In Prison?
The District Attorney's Office has available forms that notify
the New Mexico Parole Board of your address, telephone number, the case number, the county
where the offender was convicted, the offender's name, whether or not you wish to be
notified if the offender is considered for a pardon, reduced sentence, or parole.
What Victim Services Does The District Attorney's Office Provide?
The Victim Impact Program is designed to help you understand the
criminal justice process and your role as a victim or witness. Staff will contact you in
an effort to keep you better informed and to notify you of court hearings and other legal
proceedings. Additionally victims of child abuse, rape, elder abuse and domestic violence
may be eligible for counseling treatment during the court process and after the final
Do I Have Responsibilities Under This Law?
Yes...To be guaranteed your full rights under the
Constitutional Amendment and Bill of Rights, you must:
Promptly report the crime to police
Cooperate with law enforcement officials investigating the crime.
Testify the Defendant's trial.
Tell authorities if you address changes.