"Has the jury reached a verdict?", "We have your honor".

In television shows the verdict is passed in a piece of paper to the judge who reads it before saying, “proceed”.

Is this fact? If so why? If it is what power does the judge have if he/she doesn’t like the verdict?

The exact process varies from state to state, and indeed in my state from judge to judge.

When the judge looks at the verdict, he/she is simply verifying that it is in proper form, signed by the foreperson and otherwise proper. The judge at that point cannot change the verdict if he/she does not like it. If it is a criminal acquittal, the judge can never change it.

In front of one judge in my home county, the judge calls the attorneys to the bench to inspect the verdict form and lodge any objections as to form prior to the public pronouncement. Of course, then we get to see what the actual verdict is, and then I can either start or stop pissing myself as the situation dictates. I can also give my client a wink or a thumbs down.

Then when the whole big announcement comes it is not a surprise to me. In front of other judges, we only inspect afterwards and we learn at the same time everyone else does.

ETA: In my state, no judge makes me or the defendant “stand and face the jury.” We sit. That’s good because at that point I am unable to stand. I can’t imagine how a defendant feels.

It does differ from state to state and from judge to judge. In the California county where I worked as a judge’s assistant, this is/was the usual practice:

The judge asks if the jury has reached a verdict. The foreperson indicates they have. The judge then asks the foreperson to hand the written verdict to the bailiff, who immediately (and without looking) passes it to the judge for review to ensure all is in order. If yes, the judge then passes the verdict to me for reading aloud. I was required to stand as I did it. No judge I worked for ever allowed anyone to see the verdict ahead of the reading out.

I can tell you that I made sure not to fuck up the readings, and most especially not for death penalty cases or large dollar civil verdicts for damages. I had nightmares about misspeaking, “Therefore, the jury awards damages in the sum of six hundred fifty thou – no, wait, six and a half million dollars…”

Always was sorry that I couldn’t watch the reactions of the parties as the verdict was read, but I had a pretty good idea about what was happening from the involuntary noises they made.

In all criminal cases, every judge commanded the defendant to stand as the verdict was read. His/her attorney(s) always stood with the defendant alongside. In civil cases, many times the parties would stand as the verdict was read as a gesture of respect to the jury, but the judges didn’t require it.

Almost invariably in big cases, one party or the other would ask for the jury to be polled. I was grateful if the parties would stipulate to a show of hands in lieu of the individual polling process, but for death penalty cases, we did the full Monty. As we should. Tedious, but an important part of a complete record for the Court of Appeals.

There are lots of things judges can do with verdicts before they are read out if there are problems with the verdict or the jury, and even things they can do after. But if the verdict is in proper order and there are no concerns (in the judge’s opinion) about juror misconduct, then the verdict is read as rendered and the judge orders it recorded.

Also not-like-tee-vee (at least in the jurisdiction where I worked), criminal sentencings almost never took place after the verdict is read. The jury is thanked for their service and excused, and only after they have exited the courtroom do the parties confer and set a date for sentencing along with a referral to the Probation Department for a sentencing recommendation report.

In many locales the judge can set aside a juries finding of guilt.

I’ve only seen this once in my entire career. The judge scolded the jury for coming back with a guilty verdict and went on a lecture about how no reasonable jury should have listened to the mistakes the testifying officer made and still came back with a guilty verdict. Then he ranted at the defense attorney for not pouncing on the officers mistakes and not defending his client adequately.

I had just walked into the court room so I had no idea what it was all about. But that judge was in a pissy mood and my case was up next! :eek:

But my case ended in a conviction.

Sometimes a jury may neglect to answer a question or otherwise fill out the form wrong. In that case, the judge can send them back into the jury room to fix it before the parties know what is on the form. (Some “Special Verdict Forms” are several pages long and contain a lot of complicated questions. “If you answer yes to question 5, go on to question 8. If you answered no to question 5, complete questions 6 and 7.” We try to avoid that, but sometimes it can’t be completely eliminated)

so what happens in that case? does the verdict stand? can’t declare a mis-trial at that point, I’d wager?

If the judge sets aside a guilty verdict, that’s an acquittal, not a mistrial. The judge can only do this if they decide that as a matter of law the defendant can’t be found guilty given the facts of the case. Unlike a not guilty verdict by the jury, the judge’s decision can be appealed by the prosecutor.

“Justice has triumphed.”
“Damn. How soon can we file an appeal?”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judgment_notwithstanding_verdict has some information on the subject

Yes, but that has nothing to do with the judge reading the verdict form before it’s read out loud.

True. Here’s a discussion of that question https://criminal-law.freeadvice.com/criminal-law/criminal-law/verdict_jury.htm

" Because of the possibility of misunderstandings, the court will proofread the verdict before the jury foreman reads it aloud to prevent any appellate issues with the judgment or sentence rendered by the jury. The verdict sheet must be filled out as instructed and signed by the foreman. If the court notices any defects in the completion of the verdict form, they can be addressed at that time by requiring the jury to return to the jury room with an admonishment on the errors noticed by the judge."

I had to do some research into this a couple of years ago, due to a crazy case of mine.

First, here’s how it usually goes around here: judge and foreman recite the “have you”-“we have” bit. The foreman hands the verdict form to the bailiff (the verdict form is actually the last page of our jury instructions, so the bailiff can’t see it). The judge reads the verdict to himself, asks if the jurors all agree, and they say they do. Judge then reads the verdict aloud, and it’s recorded on the official record. Usually the judge makes the defendant stand, but the judge I’m working with currently does not; there’s a rule for courtroom security that defendants are to remain seated at all times. If someone wants to poll the jury, they can ask, but usually they don’t. The jurors are then typically dismissed.

It happens this way because if there’s something obviously wrong with the verdict form, the judge can fix it. There are two official ways to fix it: the judge can send the jury back to fix it themselves, with additional instructions if necessary, or the judge can fix it himself with the permission of, and in the presence of, the jury. I’ve never actually seen the second one done, but there’s plenty of caselaw out there that says it’s a valid procedure. Juries do the damndest things with jury forms; you’d be amazed at the ways they can mess it up. Maybe they signed both lines, guilty and not guilty. Maybe they sentenced him to 30 years and the max was 10. Maybe they crossed out words in the verdict to attempt to change the meaning. Seriously, it’s nuts what they do in there.

The reason I had to research this: our case involved a drunk driver who’d hit a kid and destroyed his leg. He was convicted on, I think, five charges. In Texas, if the defendant chooses, the jury does the sentencing as well as the guilt/innocence phase. The jury came back with a sentence of ten years, probated. We were shocked, but if that’s what they wanted, so be it. The jurors were dismissed, but they were given the chance to stay for pronunciation of the sentence, which they all did (emotional trial).

As the judge was explaining the sentence, the jury was getting more and more agitated. We asked for a poll, judge denied it. Even the bailiff came over and said to the judge, “The foreman of the jury told me that’s not what they wanted to do.” See, they didn’t want to put him on probation for ten years, they thought that he would go to prison for ten years and then have to do probation. That kind of sentence is not possible in Texas. But, the judge ignored our pleas to listen to the jury, and sentenced the guy to what they’d put on the paper, even though it wasn’t what they’d wanted to sentence him to. One of the jurors told us afterwards, “We wanted him to suffer as long as possible,” which is why they’d filled the form out the way they did.

We tried to appeal it, but pretty much got the door shut in our faces. The grounds for State’s appeals are very limited. Now I know that, if that ever happens again, I’ll need to stand up and encourage someone on the jury to state on the record that that wasn’t the verdict they wanted, courtroom decorum be damned.

I always found it a bit “funny” when a judge would reject a request for a directed verdict, but grant judgment n.o.v. after the jury did the opposite. It’s like, “well, let’s see what the jury does; maybe they’ll bail me out of having to do something here!”

To those of us familiar with court procedure in the UK, this passing of the paper seems odd.

In an English court (Scotland may be different) the judge first asks if the jury has appointed a foreman (probably a foreperson these days) and than asks if they have reached a verdict. If they have, the judge will read out the charges one by one and ask what the verdict is. The foreman replies in a clear voice - guilty or not guilty. There is no documentation relating to the foreman or the verdict to be signed.

Once they retire a jury’s first task is to appoint a foreman and how they go about it is entirely up to them. The juries I was on asked for volunteers and then voted on a show of hands. Ideally, you want a foreman who has chaired meetings and can keep the jury in order and on topic.

Agreed. I didn’t mean to give the impression otherwise. I was merely stating at the time the judge is inspecting the verdict form, it is not to see if he agrees with the verdict. If it is guilty, the guilty verdict will be read into the record. The judge may then or at a separate proceeding set aside the verdict as contrary to the evidence.

The judge may never, though, set aside a not guilty verdict in a criminal case.