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Who is the trier of fact in a criminal case?

On Behalf of | Dec 9, 2021 | Criminal law

There’s a saying in criminal law: It’s not what the prosecutor knows (or thinks that they know), it’s what they can prove. The facts of a case and the evidence they can find to prove those facts are what actually matter.

What happens, however, when the facts are in question? That happens a lot. It’s not unusual for the prosecution to piece a case together and come up with one version of the “facts” that more or less fits the evidence, while the defense presents a different narrative that could also fit the evidence.

Somewhere in between in any trial, there may be a whole parade of witnesses with different stories and experts with contrasting opinions, which can often make it difficult to determine what’s actually fact and what’s fiction.

It’s all up to the jury

In most trials, it’s ultimately the jury’s job to decide what’s true or what’s not. (In a bench trial, where there is no jury, the judge must take that role.) They have to listen to all of the evidence, including any “battles between the experts,” and decide who – and what – they believe.

Jurors are permitted to decide which experts they trust and which witnesses they believe. They can decide that they believe everything someone says, part of what they say or none of it. It’s entirely up to the prosecution to overcome the presumption of innocence the defendant enjoys and prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

What does all this mean for a defendant?

When you’re arrested, the police and the prosecution may tell you that they have all the evidence they need to convict you of a crime, but it really isn’t up to them – so don’t waste your breath trying to explain the truth. Invoke your right to remain silent until you have time to consider your defense.