I still get butterflies in my stomach when I am waiting for the jury verdict. Usually, I am sitting outside the courtroom on some hard wooden bench, pretending to work on my iPad or checking messages on my phone. I am sitting down the hall from the Courtroom.
At some point, I’ll hear a voice that almost sounds like my subconscious. “The verdict is in.” I’ll pick myself up and head back to the Courtroom. In that brief moment, I’m not sure if I am enjoying the moment or if the anticipation is a form of mental torture.
Once I get back to counsel table, the baliff says “all rise” and the Judge comes back to the bench. “Are you ready for the jury to read its verdict?” After nodding, the Judge then calls the jury back from the jury room.
As they enter the courtroom in single file, they re-take their same seats in the jury box. I watch their faces, trying to get a clue about the verdict. At the same time, I watch to see who will be holding the paper that indicates the verdict. Usually, I have tried to predict who will be the jury foreman; And, sometimes, that might give me a clue about the result.
Last week, two lawyers involved in a Hampton criminal jury trial were spared some of the feeling of “butterflies”. In a rare circumstance, the Judge called the prosecutor and defense attorney to his chambers. There, they both learned that the jury had found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder.
A reporter covering the trial for the Daily Press, did not know about the interaction in chambers. He did find it strange that the prosecuting attorney appeared to be in a good mood before the jury had returned. The defense attorney and defendant seemed very dejected.
When the jury came in, he saw the defendant and the defense attorney fail to stand. Throughout the trial, every time the jury had returned to the jury box, they had always stood; which is common courtesy.
The reporter later learned that the parties had already been informed of the verdict. In a handwritten note to the Judge, the reporter objected to the attorneys learning about the verdict, before the general public. The judge told the reporter that “I showed them the form without comment, and there was no discussion about it”.
The news article noted that some attorneys had speculated that the Judge had shown it to the attorneys, to make sure that there was no defect in the verdict form. Or, so that they could potentially move to sentencing without a break.
Based on the Judge’s response to the newspaper reporter, I don’t think that either of those speculations could be accurate. It seems to me that those would require a bit of communication between the lawyers and Judge.
When a verdict is about to be read, usually a couple of deputies are in the courtroom, and they take positions strategically around the jury box.
Since I only handle civil matters, perhaps judges do take a little bit different approach regarding the reading of the verdict. In civil cases, the Judge does not see the verdict until the foreman has brought it into the Courtroom.
I’ve probably read too many Grisham novels, but I would think that a defendant or defendant’s family might act differently, if they knew that the jury was already going to say “guilty”, before they even got into the Courtroom. Maybe I should include that in my first novel!
Now, pic o’ day
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