Merriam Webster defines trial as the formal examination before a competent tribunal of the matter in issue in a civil or criminal cause in order to determine such issue. In Ghana, a case can be tried summarily or tried on indictment:
These are trials employed in less serious types of offences. For these types of offences, the trial is conducted by a judge or a magistrate.
Tried on Indictment:
These are for very serious offences such as murder, rape. For the crime of murder, a judge and a jury try the accused. Indictable offences are offences punishable by death.
Determining the Type of Trial:
An offence can be tied summarily or tried on indictment.
1. Triable Summarily: Section 2(1) of COOPA (Act 30) provides two grounds for trying a case summarily:
a. Provided by Enactment: the enactment creating the offence provides that it is punishable on summary conviction, and does not provide for any other mode of trial.
b. Not provided, but punishment less than 6 months: The enactment creating the offence does not make a provision for the mode of trial and the maximum penalty for the offence on first conviction is a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, whether with or without a fine.
2. Triad on Indictment: Section 2(2) of COOPA (Act 30) provides that an offence is tried on indictment if:
a. it is punishable by death or it is an offence declared by an enactment to be a first-degree felony. (Crimes punishable by death include murder, treason, piracy. And first-degree felonies include manslaughter, rape, robbery).
b. the enactment creating the offence provides that the mode of trial is on indictment.
3. Trial summarily or tried on indictment: Section 3 of COOPA provides that (3) “Any other offence is triable on indictment or summarily.” Thus, if the offence is not captured under Section 2 of COOPA, then it can be tried summarily or by indictment.
Arraignment is a court proceeding where a criminal defendant is formally informed of the charges against him and asked to enter a plea to the charges, thus stating if guilty or not guilty. Arraignment is done in three steps:
1. The accused is called to the bar of the court.
2. The accused is informed of the nature of the crime for which he is accused.
3. The accused is asked to enter a plea. About five types of pleas can be given: A guilty plea, a not guilty plea, a plea of past conviction or acquittal on the same offence, a plea that pardon has been received from the crime, a plea that the court lacks jurisdiction.
A Guilty Plea:
When an accused person pleads guilty, it is recognized as a judicial confession and the prosecution no longer has to prove a case against the accused. The plea must be by the accused himself and not by counsel.
A Not Guilty:
An accused person can deny the charges against him by pleading not guilty. When a not guilty plea is given, the prosecution has to conduct the trial. If the accused refused to enter a plea, the court will enter a not guilty plea for the accused.
A Plea of Previous Conviction or Acquittal for the Current Offence:
When a person has been previously convicted or acquitted for the same offence for which they are being charged/arraigned, they can enter this plea. Since a person cannot be punished twice for the exact same offence, a successful proof that he has been previously convicted for the same offence he is currently being convicted will lead to a close of the case.
A Plea that Pardon has been Given by the President:
In article 72 of the 1992 constitution of Ghana, the president has the prerogative of mercy and can thus pardon convicted persons. Per Article 72(1)(a): 1. The President may, acting in consultation with the Council of State- “grant to a person convicted of an offence a pardon either free or subject to lawful conditions”.
A pardoned person can make it known to the court of his pardon.
A Plea that a Court has no Jurisdiction to try the Offence:
In Ghana, courts have different jurisdictions on the crimes they can try. In Article 19(2)(i) for instance, high treason or treason is tried by the High Court “…duly constituted by three Justices of that Court and the decision of the Justices shall be unanimous”
Conduct of Trial:
1. Prosecution opens the case, explains the charge, and outlines the evidence to support the case.
2. Calling and examining witnesses by the prosecution. Essentially, the prosecution cannot ask leading questions (questions which suggest a desired answer)
3. Defence counsel cross-examines the witnesses brought by the prosecution. Note that matters not cross examined are considered to have been accepted.
4. After the examination by the defence counsel of prosecution witnesses, the prosecution may re-examine the witnesses to get them to clarify ambiguities or to restore the credibility of the witness.
5. Prosecution closes the case after calling all its witnesses. If the court at this stage finds that there is no evidence that the accused committed the offence, the court may discharge and acquit him. Else, the trial continues.
6. The defence counsel calls the accused and cross-examine him.
7. Prosecution also gets to cross examine the accused.
8. After the cross examination of the accused by prosecution, the defence counsel re-examines the accused to also clarify ambiguities.
9. If other defence witnesses are called, they are examined by prosecution.
10. The defence then closes its case.
11. The prosecution then addresses the court.
12. The defence replies to the prosecution’s address /replies.
13. Court sums up and either gives its decision in a summary trial or gives directions to the jury if otherwise.
14. If a jury is involved, the jury then retires to consider its verdict.
15. The court imposes punishment if the accused is found guilty, or it discharges and acquits the accused if innocent.