Why We Poll the Jury

A jury verdict in a criminal case is not really a single verdict. It’s actually twelve (six in a misdemeanor) individual verdicts. It is important that jurors realize that each of them is personally and individually responsible for the verdict; the majority doesn’t rule.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a very personal standard; nobody can force someone else to agree that the doubts that she has are not reasonable. It is not acceptable for one juror to try to pressure or coerce another juror to reach a verdict contrary to her own personal judgment, and it is not acceptable for one juror to submit to another juror’s pressure to reach a verdict contrary to her own personal judgment. “I was outvoted” and “I was under so much pressure” are not justifications for reaching the wrong decision.

When I’m discussing this concept to potential jurors in voir dire, I will sometimes explain that, once the jury has reached their verdict, the judge will poll the jury — will ask each juror, “is this your verdict?” If the collective verdict does not match the juror’s personal judgment, the answer has to be “no” and the verdict does not stand. I’ve seen a lot of juries polled, and I’ve never heard a juror respond “no.”

This morning the Houston Chronicle this morning had an article about a health care fraud jury trial in federal court in which, when the jury came back with a guilty verdict, defense lawyer Joel Androphy (who taught me white-collar defense in law school) asked that the jury be polled. Judge Werlein polled the jury, and one woman said, “That’s not my verdict.” Joel moved for a mistrial, which was granted. The accused will get another trial — not right away, probably, but, as Percy Foreman used to say, a continuance is as good as an acquittal, for as long as it lasts.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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3 Responses to Why We Poll the Jury

  1. David Tarrell says:

    Last year I saw firsthand why you always poll the jury as I was watching a verdict come back in a murder trial. An older lawyer told me that you “always poll the jury” before we went in and then,when the lawyer asked for it, a juror hesitated and then said “No, that’s not my verdict.”

    The defendant, who was obviously not cuffed during the trial, was now in handcuffs awaiting the verdict. The judge then sent the jury back and when they came back out, their verdict was unanimous to convict. The defense lawyer’s motion for a mistrial was overruled by the judge, but it was a “slam dunk” on appeal, given the juror’s hesitation and the fact that she changed her mind only upn seeing the man cuffed between 2 deputies.

    It’s a lesson I’ll never forget, but I don’t think it’s requested often enough.

  2. J. Williams says:

    Lets review the case of People vs Joseph GA030364 in Pasadena Superior Court/California. Juror foreperson wrote ‘one juror was holdn out for vol manslghtr…was harassed and feels responsible for ruining mr joseph’s life.’ Another juror wrote she wantd manslghtr and sum jurors didnt deliberate. Why doesnt our justice system fix these errors? Joseph was 24 and is now 35 and still in prison with life.

  3. Pingback: JON KATZ, P.C. - Criminal / Drunk Driving Lawyer for Maryland, Virginia, DC

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