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|Under the "initial trial" system, tomorrow is the last day we have. That's the new court system they introduced two or three years ago. They had so many cases in the system, they decided to speed the whole process up.|
The initial trial system is the system for district trials under which nearly all known cases have operated in the 2010s and the 2020s. It is an "inquisitive" bench trial system in which each side argues its case to a judge, who is the sole decider of the verdict. Its main distinguishing feature is its limitation of all trials to three days. This limitation was created out of necessity because of a backlog of court cases, resulting in very fast-paced trials.
A person arrested under suspicion of a crime is held in the detention center. This suspect can take the opportunity to select a lawyer or accept representation from a lawyer appointed by the state. The suspect also has the right to self-representation in court.
Trials are held in the District Court. A prosecutor, selected by the prosecutor's office, prosecutes the case, and the selected or appointed lawyer (or the defendant) stands to defend the case. A judge serves as a mediator, and also hands down judgement at the conclusion of the trial. Either the prosecution or the defense can call witnesses or present evidence. Burden of proof, however, lies with the presenting side. Although normally all evidence must be approved by the police department before being used in court, unregistered evidence can be presented if its relevancy to the case is proven. The defense attorney must cross-examine the witnesses that the prosecution brings forth to find contradictions in the testimony to clear his or her client.
Witnesses can "plead the fifth", invoking their right to refuse to testify if their testimony could self-incriminate them. Additionally, the Chief of Police has the right to refuse to testify, and the defendant can refuse to testify by pleading silence. However, by refusing to testify, one essentially relinquishes the right to testify and is not allowed to make further comments.
The prosecution usually pushes for a guilty verdict, while the defense can plead in any number of ways such as temporary insanity or justified self-defense. The judge has the power to penalize either the defense or the prosecution for faulty evidence or points unrelated to the case at hand. The judge also has the power to suspend trials, declare recesses, strike evidence or testimony from the trial record, or have troublesome parties removed from court by a bailiff.
A limit of three days is set on the initial trials at the District Court. If a defendant receives a guilty verdict, or a verdict cannot be reached within the three-day limit, he or she will surrender him/herself to the court's care to undergo a regular trial at a higher court within a month after the initial trial. If the defendant receives a not guilty verdict, he or she is free to go. Case appeals can also be made in the case of a guilty verdict, but not in the case of a not guilty verdict.
- Much of the court system described above was employed in real-life Japan; the system portrayed in the Phoenix Wright games were based on Japan's court system at the time (although a quasi-jury system was eventually implemented after the games' release in 2009). However, there was never a three-day time limit in real-life Japan.
- Turnabout Beginnings takes place four years before the events of Turnabout Samurai, in which Phoenix Wright mentions that the initial trial system was put in place "two or three years ago". This may have been a simple oversight in the translation, as the Japanese version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney probably had no need to make such a remark. However, the "initial trial" system may only have been referring to the time limit of three days imposed on trials, and there was no indication that trials had limitations during the events of Turnabout Beginnings.
- While the three day rule remains after the first game (as mentioned by Klavier Gavin in Turnabout Academy), all cases afterward are finished in two trial days due to a desire to streamline gameplay in later installments.