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Chapter Summary and Key Concepts

Chapter 10 describes how the courts dispose of cases, including plea bargaining and jury trials.

Plea Bargaining

  • Plea bargaining is often criticized because it appears as if the offender escapes the full impact of justice.

  • A plea bargain does not determine guilt or innocence.

  • In a plea bargain, defendants plead guilty or nolo contendere in exchange for a lighter sentence.

  • Types of plea bargains include vertical pleas, horizontal pleas, reduced-sentence pleas, and avoidance-of-stigma pleas.

  • Most cases are settled in the plea-bargaining process, and only a few cases go to a jury trial.

The Trial

  • Criminal trials are relatively rare.

  • The rights of defendants in criminal trials are derived from the Bill of Rights.

  • Prior to opening statements, each side may file pretrial motions to gain the most favorable circumstances and to limit the evidence from the other side.

  • Frequent pretrial motions include motion for dismissal of charges, motion for continuance, motion for discovery, motion for severance of defendants, motion for severance of offenses, motion for the suppression of evidence, motion to determine competency, and motion for change of venue.

  • No evidence is presented during opening arguments.

  • The prosecution makes the first opening argument, telling why it believes that the defendant is guilty. The prosecution will outline the case and tell the jury of the types of evidence to be presented.

  • The defense attorney counters the prosecution’s version of the case.

  • The prosecution introduces evidence and witnesses.

  • During this presentation, the defense may object to questions asked by the prosecutor or answers given by a witness.

  • The defense may then cross-examine the witnesses.

  • The prosecutor may question the witness again, followed by questions from the defense.

  • After the prosecution presents its evidence and witnesses, the defense may present its own evidence and witnesses.

  • The prosecution may cross-examine these witnesses, followed by redirect questions from the defense and re-cross-examination by the prosecution.

  • Closing arguments follow, and the case goes to the jury.

  • The formation of a jury requires several steps: creation of the mastery jury list, formation of the venire, and voir dire.

  • Jury selection is subject to influence by the prosecution and defense through voir dire. A potential juror may be excluded by challenge for cause or peremptory challenge.

  • A conviction or acquittal requires a unanimous vote.

  • Defendants who are found guilty are sentenced by the judge, who has considerable discretion in deciding the sentence.

  • Cases that usually do not get a jury trial are those in which the penalty is not serious, cases with a juvenile defendant, or cases when the defense requests a bench trial.

  • In a bench trial, a judge decides on guilt or innocence and passes sentence.


  • The two primary types of sentencing philosophies are indeterminate sentencing and determinate sentencing.

  • The indeterminate sentence is fashioned to fit the offender; the determinate sentence is fashioned to fit the crime.

  • Mandatory minimum sentences, a form of determinate sentencing, do not allow probation and specify incarceration for a term not less than a specified number of years.

  • To increase the voice and input of the victim, many states have adopted victim-rights legislation.

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