when is it legal for judge to reverse a jury verdict?

good afternoon friends,

ocassionally you hear that a verdict by a jury is vacated, and reversed by the judge trying the case.

what circumstances are necessary for this to be legal? can the reversal be appealed?

The precise rules for this thing vary a lot by jurisdiction. In general, in a criminal trial, a judge may overturn a guilty verdict under extraordinary circumstances, such as if he feels the prosecution relied on jurors’ prejudices instead of the facts of the case. A judge can not overturn an acquital.

Civil cases are a lot more complicated.

friend friedo,

thanks! i appreciate the answer

Here is the text of the rule allowing judges to order a new trial in a civil case. There are other ways that a judge can tinker with a verdict, but it seems like you are asking about new trials:

Not especially helpful, right?

Try this then:


There’s always that escape clause. In other words, “… you can only grant a new trial under these conditions. However, if your really think a new trial is warranted here’s a way to do it.”

Remember, too that a court’s grant of a new trial isn’t really very reviewable . . .

Basic standard

What this really means:

I am not a lawyer, so my word should be taken with a grain of salt.

However, I believe different states vary drastically in the powers they give judges. Mssachusetts is one state in which judges have broad powers to overturn jury rulings. Many people learned of this only after the famous case of the young English au pair who was charged with shaking a baby to death. The jury found her guilty of killing the child (I forget the precise charge), but the judge set the verdict aside, and let the girl return to England.

In most states (certainly here in Texas), the judge would have had no such power, and the jury’s verdict would have stood.

Of course states vary on their new trial practices. I haven’t looked at all of them, but most have the same verbal formula. Here is Massachussetts’:

Massacussetts Rule 59 is similar to the federal rule I quoted earlier.

I have been unable to locat similar information about Texas, but I suspect the standard of appellate review is abuse of discretion.

According to this the judge reduced the charge and found her guilty of manslaughter. The controversial part was that he sentenced her to time served.

This has little to do with new trial standards. Standards governing a judge’s discretion to modify a verdict do vary more from state to state.