The Law and Order of my First Criminal Case Experience
From corporate law to criminal trials, read about my experience of the arraignment, jury empanelment, witness calling, and verdict day in a high-profile armed robbery case.
Author: Kelly Leung, Trainee Solicitor
Co-Author: Tajriyan Siddiqui, Marketing Assistant
Introduction Being a trainee solicitor sees me mostly handling corporate and probate cases. Representing a client at a criminal trial over an armed robbery case however, was uncharted territory for me. Before the trial, whether it was collecting evidence from the police station, exchanging admitted facts with the Prosecution Counsel or even the monthly legal visits at the prison, I could not have been more grateful to be involved in a criminal case like this which really showed me insights of how a high-profile criminal case goes down and the usual procedures in court unfold.
It was finally the start of the trial, and prior to being involved in the case, I had no idea what an Arraignment was. For those who are as confused as I was - Arraignment is the first step in a formal court proceeding and is usually conducted in front of a judge or magistrate. The purpose of arraignment is to inform the defendant of the charges against them, their rights, including their right to an attorney, their right to remain silent, and their right to a fair trial, and to then allow them to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
In our case, our client decided to plead not guilty, hence the case then moved forward to trial. In the event the defendant pleads guilty however, the judge may proceed straight to sentencing.
Simply put, the arraignment process basically determines the direction of the case.
Empanelment of Jury
The next day was the day of Empanelment, also known as jury selection or voir dire, is a process of selecting a fair and impartial jury from a pool of potential jurors to serve in a trial. The process begins with potential jurors, who received a court summons, assembled in court where the judge asks them questions to determine their eligibility.
Counsel for both sides may then request the removal of certain jurors for cause, and each Counsel may also be allowed a limited number of peremptory challenges to remove potential jurors without a reason. Once the jury is selected, they will hear the evidence presented in court and make a decision based solely on the facts presented during examination and cross-examination.
In our situation, many of the chosen jurors were reluctant to the prospect of serving on a panel for 9 days straight as it meant putting aside personal matters and work to attend court every day. Some stated that their English skills were inadequate and that they were concerned that they would not grasp the case, while others informed the judge that they had elderly family members at home to care for.
The bar for evading jury duty is actually fairly high, as the judge required them to produce documentation in favor of their justification for being excused from jury duty, such as a high school diploma, a medical certificate, and so on.
Calling witnesses provides critical evidence that aids in determining a defendant's guilt or innocence. When a criminal case gets to trial, both the prosecution and the defense can summon witnesses to testify in their favor.
Typically, witnesses are asked to provide firsthand accounts of events related to the crime. For example, if a witness saw the defendant at the site of the crime or overheard him confessing, their testimony might be used against him. Witnesses may be invited to comment on things such as forensic evidence or experts of lifting fingerprints, as was the case in this trial.
For prosecution witnesses, we had police officers, experts, and our client's former roommate. The former roommate was one of the criminals in this case who pleaded guilty at his trial a few months ago. However, with the promise of a reduced sentence, if he could name other parties involved, we (the Defense) had reason to believe that naming our client as the mastermind could perhaps be his golden ticket out.
After 10 long days of examination and cross-examination, it was finally the day of the verdict. The 9 jurors had to decide whether to convict or acquit our client. For a decision to be considered "made," a 7-2 vote ratio is required.
While the jurors deliberated in private, we legal representatives waited for the court clerk to call and advise us that a verdict had been reached. I'm not kidding when I say that every time the Counsel's phone rang, our hearts skipped a beat.
We waited patiently until the next day at 5 p.m., when the judge decided to summon everyone and ask the jurors if they could reach a judgment.
They could not.
No decision was made since there was a hung jury at the conclusion of the case, and the judge ordered a retrial.
As I close, I think it’s important to mention the concept of “beyond reasonable doubt. ” The idea of a “beyond reasonable doubt" is meant to make sure that a defendant is not found guilty based solely on suspicion or conjecture, but rather on proof that is adequate to dispel any reasonable question regarding their guilt. There must be sufficient proof presented by the prosecution to convince the jury that the defendant committed the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, it is crucial for jurors to understand that they must find the defendant not guilty if they have any reasonable doubts and that the standard is intentionally high.
As the case is currently still ongoing, I hope it gets resolved in the upcoming retrial.
Kelly Leung is a trainee solicitor at Ravenscroft & Schmierer. She completed a summer internship with the firm in 2021, and represented Ravenscroft & Schmierer as a Campus Ambassador at HKU (The University of Hong Kong) during the academic year 2021/22. She graduated with an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom and a PCLL (Postgraduate Certificate in Laws) from HKU.