A jury in a criminal trial must make important decisions as to the guilt of accused individuals, called defendants. These decisions are contained in a verdict. Since there may be multiple defendants and multiple charged crimes, a verdict may contain multiple decisions from the jury.
In order to return a verdict to the judge in court, the jury must agree to the decisions contained in the verdict. States vary as to the number of jurors that must agree to return a verdict. Federal criminal courts require a unanimous vote for a valid verdict.
It's very important to make sure the verdict is accurate. The decisions contained in the verdict will decide whether a defendant will be found guilty or not guilty of a crime. To make sure that a verdict is accurate, the defendant or the government may ask the court to poll the jury. Polling the jury means to ask each juror separately to confirm the verdict that was returned to the court.
Right to Poll the Jury
All parties in a criminal trial have the absolute right to request a jury poll. The court must accept this request and poll the jury. The court may also poll the jury on its own without any request.
Time to Poll the Jury
A verdict isn't final when it's announced at court. It's only final when it's been recorded by the court. A polling request must be made after a verdict is returned to the court but before it's recorded. Once the verdict is recorded, and the jury is discharged, any request to poll the jury is untimely and will be rejected by the court.
Method of Polling the Jury
The court has the discretion to decide the method of conducting the jury poll. However, there are certain requirements for a valid poll:
- Jurors must have the opportunity to confirm or deny the verdict in open court
- Jurors must be polled individually
The court must poll each juror individually in open court to confirm or deny the verdict. It can't rely on the jurors' confirmation of the verdict in the jury room. Jurors may dissent from the verdict in open court even if they agreed to it in the jury room.
The court has the discretion as to whether to conduct a single poll or a separate poll for each defendant and each charged crime. In complicated cases, the court will usually have a separate poll for each issue in order to avoid confusion.
Options if Poll Reveals Disagreements with Verdict
If the poll reveals that a juror disagrees with the accuracy of the verdict, the court has a couple of options. The court can:
- Direct the jury to deliberate further
- Declare a mistrial and discharge the jury
The court has the discretion to decide whether to order further deliberations or declare a mistrial. A mistrial is an inconclusive trial that ends without a verdict on the issues not agreed upon by the jury.
Polling Errors that May Allow a Verdict to be Reversed
There are certain errors that a court may make in polling the jury that are considered improper. These errors may allow a defendant to have the verdict reversed by a court on appeal. Examples of reversible errors include:
- Coercing a juror to change his vote
- Continuing to poll the jury after a poll reveals that a juror disagrees with the verdict
- Denying a timely request for a jury poll
A court must not coerce a juror to changing his vote. Directing a juror to repeatedly disagree with a verdict by continuous polling can be perceived as an attempt to change his vote.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If I am found guilty of one crime, and found not guilty of another crime, can I ask the court to poll the jury on only the crime I was found guilty of committing?
- If the court declares a mistrial after a jury poll reveals disagreements with the verdict, will there automatically be a new trial or is there a chance the government won't pursue another trial?
- Did the court commit reversible error by questioning the dissenting juror as to why he didn't confirm the verdict?
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