CHAPTER 12: OUTLINE OF A TRIAL - Table of Contents

12.1 - Introduction12.2 - Pretrial Matters12.3 - Jury Selection12.4 - Opening Statement12.5 - Prosecution Case-in-Chief12.6 - Motion For Judgment of Acquittal/Directed Verdict12.7 - Defense Case-in-Chief12.8 - Rebuttal and Surrebuttal12.9 - Witness Examination12.10 - Jury Instructions12.11 - Closing Argument12.12 - Jury Deliberations12.13 - Motions For Mistrial12.14 - Miscellaneous Issues


Juries are generally instructed to elect a foreperson to preside over the deliberations, and then deliberate until they have reached a verdict. Other than that, juries are free to proceed however they think best, and the process of what goes on in a particular jury room is generally off-limits to inquiry by counsel or anyone else.

The only exception to this rule of secrecy is if there is evidence that some improper outside influence has been brought to bear on the jury. For example, if there was evidence that someone tried to bribe or blackmail a jury, or that someone had brought improper evidence into the jury room, a trial court might inquire into the deliberative process.

Sometimes, a jury will send out a question during their deliberations. Often, the question is answered with a standard response: "You have all of the law and evidence which you need to decide this case." In other situations, when it seems clear that the instructions as given are not answering relevant questions of the jurors, a more substantive response can be given as long as it is a correct statement of the law.

A jury may ask for a transcript or for a reading of certain testimony. Usually, there is no transcript available. The danger in reading certain portions of the testimony to the jury is that it will improperly highlight those portions. On the other hand, the fact that the jury has made the request indicates that the jurors believe that testimony is helpful and important. The decision whether to read portions of the record to the jury is left to the sound discretion of the trial judge.

Sometimes, a jury indicates that it is having trouble reaching a unanimous verdict. In these situations, the trial court must balance the desire to have the jury reach a verdict in order to conclude the matter and eliminate the need for a retrial, with the need to ensure that no juror sacrifices his or conscientious opinion merely for the sake of reaching an agreement.

Although the judge is not allowed to coerce or prejudice a verdict, the court can give the jury a special instruction when the jury communicates to the court that it is deadlocked. This instruction tells each juror to try to reach an agreement if that can be done without violence to individual judgment, but not to surrender an honest conviction for the mere purpose of returning a verdict or solely because of the opinion of fellow jurors. If a jury is still unable to reach a verdict and the trial court becomes convinced that further deliberation is fruitless, the court will declare a mistrial.

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