I’ve been doing jury trials in the San Fernando courthouse now for twenty-five years. The first thing you need to consider is the jury pool there. As it relates to LA County, the San Fernando courthouse jury pool is a conservative one. They’re drawing jurors from Canyon country, Saugus, Valencia. Believe it or not, they really don’t get a lot of jurors from San Fernando which would probably be a more liberal jury pool. So, if you’re going to try a case in San Fernando, you’re going to try it in front of a typically conservative jury pool. So, whatever issues you have in the case and whatever your theory is, is going to have to be contemplated when you decide to try a case in the San Fernando courthouse.
What happens is, you start in the arraignment court, enter a not guilty plea, then they move you into one of the preliminary hearing courts. Once you do the preliminary hearing, you go on the trial court and then approximately sixty days from there, you’re entitled to have your trial. As far as the San Fernando trials go, what they typically due is set the case for a seven of ten, which basically means that it is seven of ten calendar days. When you show up on the seven of ten date in the trial court in San Fernando, the judge will ask both sides if they’re ready to do the trial. If both sides announce ready, the prosecution and the defense in the San Fernando court, then they will bring you back the next day, order a jury panel and begin the trial. They typically order approximately forty-five to sixty jurors. So, when the defense attorneys go in there to do the jury trial in San Fernando, the courtroom is going to be crowded and they are going to start the process of picking a jury.
The judge will give some general comments and statements to the whole potential jury pool. He’ll introduce all the parties – the defense lawyer, the prosecution, the judge’s court staff, and the judge will introduce him or herself to all the jurors and may even read a few of the jury instructions that are general and relevant to a San Fernando jury case, and then the voir dire process will begin. In that process, the judge asks the jurors a bunch of general questions. After the judge is done asking all of his or her questions, then the attorneys will be given an opportunity to ask questions of specific jurors who are in the jury box. A lot of time what they do in these San Fernando Jury trials is they put twelve people in the box. They also put another six people out that are lined up across the front of the jury box. That way, as preemptory challenges are used to take out jurors, new jurors are put in.
They typically don’t’ use the full names of jurors on the record in these jury trials in San Fernando, so they can keep everything confidential. The judge will also take up issues with jurors who think that they can’t serve on the jury because either they have to work, they have to travel on some sort of a vacation or they have other obligations like child care, etc. After the defense lawyers are done questioning the jurors, then the judge will ask if there are any challenges for cause. What this means is that the defense lawyers hear or see anything during the voir dire that made them think that the particular juror would not be fair or the defense attorney feels that the particular juror is going to be biased. If there are, then the defense lawyers will come up the sidebar where nobody can hear but it will still be recorded by the court reporter and the particular attorney – who doesn’t want a particular juror on the panel because they feel that juror is biased in the San Fernando jury trial – will explain to the judge why they think they’re biased. The other lawyer will have a chance to respond to that and then the judge will make a ruling.
Once all the challenges for cause are done, then the judge will start to let each side use preemptory challenges to basically get rid of jurors that they don’t want to sit on their client’s jury panel. Once all the preemptory challenges are used, or once both sides accept the panel as constituted, the jurors will be sworn in. Two or three alternates will also be picked in case some of the jurors get sick during the San Fernando jury trial, and then the trial will begin with opening statements.
The prosecutor will go first and the defense will have the option of giving an opening statement. After the opening statements, the prosecutors will be the first ones to put on evidence, obviously, because they have the burden of proof in the case. Defense will get to cross-examine each one of their witnesses, and then the defense will be given the opportunity, if they chose, to put on any evidence including the defendant, and then after that, the prosecutors can put on any rebuttal witnesses to rebut what the defense put on and then they will move in to closing arguments Each side will get a chance to do a closing argument and then the prosecutor – again because they have the burden – will get the final word and then the judge will read all the jury instructions to the San Fernando Jury and then they will be given the opportunity to go back and discuss the case and see if they can reach a verdict on each of the counts.
If there’s a guilty verdict, then a future sentencing date will typically be set. If there’s a not guilty verdict, then obviously the case will end at that point.
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