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3 Reasons A Jury Verdict Can Be Overturned

If you are facing a criminal charges in a controversial case, you will want to understand the various facets of a trial, the power of the judge, and what things can affect a jury's decision. This article will discuss the three ways a jury verdict may be overturned by a judge.

1. A juror engages in misconduct.

In the 1957 version of the movie Twelve Angry Men, during a point in deliberations, the character juror 8 (Henry Fonda) reached in his pocket and brought forth a switch blade. He then disputed the claim that the prosecutor in the trial made that the knife with its intricate carvings on the sides was an hard-to-find or unusual item. Juror 8 said he went for a walk and picked one up in the neighborhood near the apartment where the murder took place.

During a real trial, misconduct could result in a mistrial (unsuccessful trial that is stopped). Juror misconduct includes bringing in outside evidence, doing extra research, voting without true conviction just to get the trial over with, or getting information from the media. The jurors should consider the case as presented by the prosecution and the defense.

Either the prosecution or the defense can make a motion for a mistrial, and the judge can decide whether to declare one or not. 

2. There is unfair jury nullification going on.

The 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird was a story of how jury nullification can work in a negative way. 

Nullification happens when a jury agrees on a verdict that makes it evident that they disregarded the evidence at trial and the instructions set by the judge when making it. This can happen when the jurors do not agree with the law itself, or believe that the defendant was not at fault when breaking the law. This can also be the result when jurors ignore the evidence that the defendant is actually innocent,  and vote to convict because of their  prejudice or bias, as in the film.

A judge cannot set aside an acquittal, but a judge can set aside a guilty verdict if they believe that it was unfairly decided upon.

It was a little late for this defendant since he had already been executed for a crime in 1944, but a South Carolina judge vacated the murder conviction of George Stinney Jr in 2014, citing the failure of an appeal for a new trial, while also commenting on the lack of evidence and the poor defense that was offered. The fourteen year old was accused of murdering two young girls. The reversal did give comfort to surviving family members of Stinney.

3. The Judge believes the verdict reached is not lawful.

If a judge believes that the verdict reached in not in accord with the technicalities or the spirit of the law, or the charge in question was too severe for what transpired, the judge can overturn it. This is what happened in the first 2nd degree murder trial of Marjorie Knoller. Knoller's two large dogs broke lose from her and mauled a neighbor (Dianne Whipple) to death.

The judge threw out the guilty verdict because he said that Knoller could not have known that the dogs would kill the woman, so she could not have had the intent to kill.

However, a prosecutor can appeal a set-aside verdict. In this case prosecutors did, and Knoller was eventually convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life. In the second trial, there was much focus on the facts involving Knoller's lack of concern and care for the victim following the attack.

In contrast, there is the 1997 trial of Nanny Louise Woodward, who was charged with second degree murder of a child in her care. Doctors involved in the case testified that the baby died of "shaken baby syndrome." She was convicted of second degree murder but the judge reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter because evidently the woman did not act out of malice, a necessary component of murder.

Prosecutors did appeal this, but the set-aside was not overturned.

For more information about the laws in your area, check out professionals at places like Stuart Simon Law Firm.