Can the jury receive written copies of the judge's instructions?

In many jurisdictions, jurors can receive a written copy of the judge's instructions to the jury. For example, Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure, Rule 33.6 provides that upon request of an attorney in the case or any juror, a written copy of the jury instructions shall be provided to the jury. Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure, Rule 19 provides: "Final instructions shall be in writing and at least one copy provided to the jury. The court shall provide a copy to any juror who requests one and may, in its discretion, provide a copy to all jurors."

Why are jury instructions important?

Jury instructions are important because most jurors take their civic responsibility very seriously and genuinely desire to follow the law. These jurors often pay particular attention to what the trial judge says. Furthermore, jury instructions are often a focus of defendants' appeals, and appellate courts do pay close attention to jury instructions. For example, if a trial judge refuses to grant a defense attorney's proposed jury instruction, that could be a good basis for an error of law committed by the trial judge.

Can jury members discuss the case before deliberations?

No, jury members are admonished by trial judges not to discuss the case with

Sometimes, no matter how much time they are given, a jury becomes deadlocked. A judge cannot force a jury to reach a verdict. (iStock).

Sometimes, no matter how much time they are given, a jury becomes deadlocked. A judge cannot force a jury to reach a verdict. (iStock).

LegalSpeak: Tennessee Court Rules on Closing Arguments


(a) State's First Closing Argument; Waiver.

(1) State's First Closing Argument.

At the close of the evidence, the state has the right to make the first closing argument to the tier of facts.

(2) Waiver.

If the state desires that all closing argument be waived, it may offer to waive such argument. If the defendant agrees, then no argument will be made. The state may not waive the first closing argument unless all closing argument is waived.

(3) Scope of State's Opening Argument.

The state's first closing argument shall cover the entire scope of the state's theory.

(b) Defendant's Closing Argument; Waiver.

(1) Defendant Argues after State.

Each defendant shall be allowed to make a closing argument following the state's first closing argument. If the defendant waives this closing argument, the state is not permitted to make a final closing argument.

(2) Scope of Defendant's Argument.

Defendant's closing argument may address any relevant and proper subject and is not limited to matters actually argued by the state.

(c) State's Final Closing Argument. (1) State's Final Closing Argument.

The state shall be allowed a final closing argument following the defendant's closing arguments, unless the defendant has waived closing argument or the state has waived all argument or its final argument.

(2) Scope of State's Final Closing Argument.

The state's final closing argument is limited to the subject matter covered in the state's first closing argument and the defendant's intervening argument. (d) Court's Discretion to Control Closing Arguments.

(1) Discretion to Regulate Arguments. The court has discretion to set:

(A) the number of closing arguments permitted on behalf of the state beyond the first and final closing arguments;

(B) the number of closing arguments in excess of one permitted each defendant; and

(C) the order and length of closing arguments.

(2) Policies.

The court shall allow adequate but not excessive time for closing arguments to make a full presentation of the theory of the case. If more than two arguments are made for the state, the court shall ensure that no defendant is deprived of the opportunity to answer a new argument made by the state against that defendant. It is the purpose of this rule to ensure that all argument be waived only with the consent of both sides; that the defendant shall be permitted to waive all remaining argument after the state's first closing argument; and that while the state, having the burden of proof, has the right to open and close the argument, this right shall not be exercised in such way as to deprive the defendant of the opportunity to fully answer all state argument. The court, on motion, shall enforce this purpose.

each other or with anybody else until the case is concluded and the case is submitted for formal jury deliberations. If a trial judge finds out that a juror has violated this provision, the trial judge will remove the juror.

If the jury cannot agree and is deadlocked, what does a court do?

If a jury deadlocks, the trial judge may call the jury back into the courtroom and ask them to continue deliberating. However, rules prohibit a judge from actually forcing a jury to reach a verdict. For instance, Kentucky Rule of Criminal Procedure, Rule 9.57 provides: "no juror should surrender his or her honest conviction as to the weight or effect of the evidence solely because of the opinion of other jurors, or for the mere purpose of returning a verdict."

Can juror misconduct lead to a mistrial?

Yes, it can. If juror misconduct substantially prejudices the defendant's rights and the defense makes a motion for a new trial, a trial judge may grant the defendant's motion for a new trial. For example, Ohio Rule of Criminal Procedure, Rule 33 provides: "A new trial may be granted on motion of the defendant for any of the following causes affecting materially his substantial rights . misconduct of the jury, prosecuting attorney, or the witnesses for the state."

What happens if a jury cannot reach a decision?

Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure, Rule 31(d), if a jury cannot reach a decision, the trial judge can order the jury to deliberate some more or may declare a mistrial and dismiss the jury.

If the jury convicts the defendant, what are the defendant's options?

The defendant can ask the judge to overrule the jury's determination, finding that the jury's decision was against the weight of the evidence. The defendant can file a motion for a new trial or the defendant can appeal the adverse verdict.

When can a judge reverse a jury verdict?

Usually, trial judges do not overturn jury's guilty verdicts. However, in most jurisdictions trial judges do have the power to do so when they feel that the verdict is in clear error.

LegalSpeak: Montana Statute on Juror Conduct

Mont. Code Anno., ยง 46-16-501; Conduct of jury during trial:

(1) The jurors sworn to try an action may at any time, in the discretion of the court, be permitted to separate or be ordered to remain sequestered in the charge of a proper officer. If sequestered, the officer must be sworn to keep the jurors together, to allow no person to communicate with the jury or to personally communicate with the jury on any subject connected with the trial, and to return the jury into court as directed.

(2) Whether permitted to separate or sequestered, at each adjournment of the court, the jurors must be admonished that it is their duty not to converse among themselves or with anyone else on any subject connected with the trial or to form or express any opinion on the trial until the cause is finally submitted to them.

(3) In all cases appealed to the supreme court, it must be conclusively considered that the court or judge gave the proper admonition in accordance with the provision of subsection (2) unless the record affirmatively shows the contrary.

Some states provide that if a defendant has filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal, the judge can reserve judgment on that motion until after the jury reaches its decision.

For example, Virginia law provides: "If the jury returns a verdict of guilty, the court may, on motion of the accused made not later than 21 days after entry of a final order, set aside the verdict for error committed during the trial or if the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to sustain a conviction." Tennessee court rules provide that a trial judge can grant a new trial if the judge finds that the jury's verdict is against the weight of evidence.

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