In a jury trial, why does the judge need to see the verdict before the jury foreman reads it aloud?
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UPDATED: Feb 1, 2011
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At the end of the presentation of evidence at every jury trial, the jury is provided with a set of instructions called the “charge of the court.” The back page of the charge usually contains a verdict form. The verdict form is where the foreperson of the jury records the jury’s decision. The jury is required to limit their answers to the instructions given by the court. Unfortunately, juries are occasionally confused by the court’s instructions, or simply want more options than are listed. For example, intoxication assault is a third degree felony in Texas. A jury would be instructed to sentence a defendant found guilty of intoxication assault anywhere from two to ten years. Many advocacy groups are frustrated that this crime is only a third degree felony with a maximum punishment of ten years. If several members of a jury feel the same way, they may try to sentence a defendant in excess of ten years, thereby ignoring the court’s instruction. If the jury verdict sentenced the defendant to twenty years in prison, the sentence would be considered an illegal sentence because it was outside the range of punishment.
The court can only receive a valid judgment. An invalid judgment can result in jeopardy attaching—which means a defendant could end up avoiding criminal responsibility for their actions. Because of the possibility of misunderstandings, the court will proofread the verdict before the jury foreman reads it aloud to prevent any appellate issues with the judgment or sentence rendered by the jury. The verdict sheet must be filled out as instructed and signed by the foreman. If the court notices any defects in the completion of the verdict form, they can be addressed at that time by requiring the jury to return to the jury room with an admonishment on the errors noticed by the judge.