Crown Court Jury Trial
We talk a lot in this Country about the benefits of a jury trial, how leaving the decision in the hands of 12 people chosen at random, is the fairest way of securing justice. How does a jury decide?
How do juries decide?
Laws prevent juries being asked about how they came to their decision. There are lots of academic studies, some with mock juries that shed little light on the process. It is hard to recreate the very real responsibility a juror feels when presented with crucial decisions about a real person’s guilt or innocence. What we do know however, in minute detail, is the legal process that guides them in their decision making and despite the lack of ‘hard proof.’ most lawyers actively support trial by jury.
Jurors sometimes research the case or facts connected with it online. On other occasions they may try and get information from social media. This can be contempt of court and can land the juror in trouble. The judge will always tell the jury that they must decide the case on the facts they hear in court and no others.
Why can’t the jury research the case?
There are very good reasons why some information is kept from a jury. Going behind the court’s order not to discuss evidence with anyone outside the jury is a serious matter. The reasons include:
- The case must be tried on admissible evidence. In general, this means evidence given in person by someone who has witnessed the events or can give first hand evidence about matters such as documents.
- Hearsay evidence is not allowed except under special circumstances. An example of hearsay is a witness saying, “John said that Jane said the defendant was responsible”. Almost all so-called facts to be found on the internet will be hearsay. They have no place in a court of law or in a juror’s mind when deciding guilt or innocence
- .The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. For this reason, with some exceptions, the jury is not usually told about a defendant’s previous criminal record. Unsurprisingly Googling a defendant’s name will often turn up search results of previous court appearances.
- Every defendant is entitled to a fair trial. That is a trial in which the facts are decided on the evidence given in court and no other.
We start with 12
We always start with 12 jury members. No criminal jury trial can commence with fewer jurors. Howver for lots of reasons a trial does not always finish with 12. Jurors may become sick and be unable to return, or in rare cases, they may be removed from a jury due to some misconduct. Provided the number of jurors does not fall below 9, a verdict can be reached.
A unanimous verdict
The Judge will always seek a unanimous verdict first. That is a verdict upon which all the jurors are agreed, so either guilty or not guilty. In the early stages of a jury considering its verdict, a Judge cannot accept a majority verdict. If the jury are completely stuck the judge can accept a majority decision. When that happens varies from case to case. Generally, judges wait longer in the more serious cases such as murder, armed robbery or firearms offences.
If a judge decides to allow a majority verdict he will tell the jury that they should try hard to reach a verdict that they all agree with. If they cannot do that he will tell them that a majority verdict will be accepted. In a jury of 12 no more than two jurors can disagree. Where the jury has 10 or 11 members only one person may disagree. On the otherhand if there are 9 jurors the verdict must be unanimous. If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant is free to leave court (if there are no other matters remaining).
Sometimes the jury cannot reach any kind of verdict. The Judge will often know this as the jury will write a note to explain the situation. The advocates will not know this has happened because the note often states the number for and number against conviction. When a deadlock occurs, the judge will tell the jury that there should be some ‘give and take’. The judge will ask all jurors to use their experience to reach a decision.
If despite further deliberation it becomes clear that the jury is deadlocked, the jury will be discharged, and the trial will be over.
Sometimes the prosecution may decide to have a new trial. On other occasions they will decide that the case is not strong enough for a retrial.
What role do solicitors play in a jury trial?
Solicitors are a central part of jury trials. This is because we are responsible for preparing the defence evidence that is placed before the jury. There is some research which shows that juries decide the outcome of a case on the evidence alone. That is the persuasive arguments of the advocates do not take precedence over the facts. This means that the preparation and presentation of evidence tending to show that the defendant is not guilty is the most important factor in achieving successful outcomes. One study showed that:
“In approximately 90% of trials, the position favoured by the majority at the beginning of deliberations becomes the jury verdict”.
That “position” is the initial impression the jurors have of the defendant and his evidence as compared to the prosecution and their evidence.
How we can assist
If you wish to plead not guilty in crown court trial we can help. That help includes:
Preparing the evidence for trial including the evidence to be given by the defendant. This is often the crux of the case and requires careful attention to detail. We test the evidence you will give by robust questioning in conference. It is also very important that a defendant is fully familiar with court procedure so that when they appear in court they know exactly what is going to happen. It is in our view a good idea for defendants to go and watch actual trials as a member of the public.
Careful analysis of the prosecution case so that the defendant knows what must be proved against him. That is, we identify all the facts central to the prosecution case. If you do not know the facts, then you cannot attack them.
If you want to win a jury trial it really helps to have independent evidence indicating that you are not guilty. This may be:
- Witnesses to events
- Medical evidence as to psychological or medial conditions or capacity
- Experts as to a wide range of facts, such as whether handwriting is yours, whether firearm residues are consistent with firing the gun, whether a controlled drug is what the prosecution say it is, or attribution of fingerprints, blood or DNA.
- Character evidence which shows that the defendant is not they type of person to commit the crime alleged.
We realise that the crown court trial process can be difficult for both our clients and their families. We are engaged at all stages so that the client knows what is going on and what will happen next.
As experienced trial lawyers and the focus must be on you and your acquittal. Wee will have done cases like yours and you must be involved throughout.
For further information about how Moss & Co can help with your Crown Court trial call Jamie Ritchie or Keith Hollywood on 020 8986 8336 or us the contact form below.