The Steps of a Criminal Trial in Rhode Island

If you’ve never dealt with the criminal justice system in Rhode Island, facing a criminal trial for a felony or misdemeanor charge can be daunting. Knowing what to expect may not relieve all of your anxiety about the trial, but it can help you feel more confident about what is happening. 

We discuss the phases of a criminal trial below.

Choosing a Jury

According to the Rhode Island Constitution, a defendant in a criminal case has the right to be tried by a jury of 12 individuals. The judge or the lawyers may ask the jurors questions to determine if they are qualified to sit on a particular jury. This process is called voir dire.

Choosing a jury is a crucial step in the criminal trial process. The state and the defense have the opportunity to strike some jurors who may be biased or disqualified for some other reason. Experienced criminal defense lawyers spend significant time on jury selection.

Opening Statements

At the beginning of a criminal trial, the prosecutor makes an opening statement, followed by the defendant’s opening statement. Opening statements outline the case for the jury.

The state tells the jury how it intends to prove the defendant’s guilt. The defendant may decline to make an opening statement. If the defense decides to make an opening statement, they may explain how they intend to dispute the state’s allegations.

Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination

The opening statements are followed by witness testimony. The prosecution calls witnesses first, and the defense has the opportunity to cross-examine each witness. When the prosecution rests, the defense may call witnesses.

As with the state’s witnesses, the prosecutor can cross-examine the defendant’s witnesses. After cross-examination, the party who originally called the witness can re-direct (i.e., ask follow-up questions).

Witnesses in a criminal case vary depending on the type of matter. Potential witnesses may include alleged victims, law enforcement officers, expert witnesses, and the defendant. The defendant is not required to testify at their criminal trial.

As witnesses testify, a party may offer evidence in the form of documentation, photographs, videos, audio recordings, physical evidence, and other tangible items. The other party may object to the evidence, and the judge determines whether it is admissible.

Closing Arguments

After the parties present their cases, they may give closing arguments. In Rhode Island, the defendant presents their closing argument first, followed by the state.

Closing arguments are not evidence. However, skilled lawyers use them to make a final argument to jurors that their explanation of the evidence and events is true.

The state’s closing argument summarizes the evidence presented. The prosecutor explains how the evidence proves that the defendant committed the alleged crime.

The defense attorney argues that the evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. The defense may argue an alternative scenario explaining the evidence presented in court.

Jury Instructions

Charging the jury involves the judge instructing the jurors on the law that applies in the case. The judge reminds the jurors of their duties and oath, in addition to explaining the presumption of innocence and the deliberation process. The instructions should be fair and impartial.

Jury Deliberation and the Announcement of a Verdict

Jury deliberations are confidential. Only the jurors are permitted inside the jury room. During deliberations, jurors discuss the evidence presented during the trial. They may ask the judge to explain the law or allow them to rehear part of the testimony read by the court reporter. However, the jurors must decide what evidence to believe is true or untrue.

A criminal conviction requires a unanimous vote by the jury. All 12 jurors must find the defendant guilty for a conviction. If the jurors cannot agree, the judge may grant a mistrial. The state chooses whether to retry the defendant in a new trial.


The judge sets a sentencing date if the jury returns a guilty verdict. The sentence depends on many factors, but could include incarceration, probation, and fines.

Appeals May or May Not Be Part of Your Criminal Trial 

The defendant may appeal a conviction to a higher court. However, if the state loses, it cannot retry the defendant for the same crime.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Rhode Island, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Law Firm – Manosh Payette Criminal Defense Attorneys

For more information, please contact the Providence criminal defense law firm of Manosh Payette Criminal Defense Attorneys for a free consultation, give us a call at (401) 854-7794 or visit our convenient location:

Manosh Payette Criminal Defense Attorneys – Providence Criminal Defense Attorney
101 Dyer St Suite 2D, Providence, RI 02903, United States