Can A Judge Overrule The Jury?

Courtroom proceedings can be confusing for folks who are not well acquainted with legal affairs. One of the most common questions is whether the decision taken by the jury is final. People also want to know what could be their options if they feel that the jury decision is not consistent with the laws of the land. Such answers are a bit challenging to answer, as there are a number of factors involved. Here are some facts that can help get better clarity about whether a judge can overrule the jury verdict.

JNOV – A judge overturning the jury decision is quite rare. However, it occurs from time to time. If the judge feels that the jury’s decision is not backed by adequate evidence, they can overturn the Jury verdict. This is where JNOV (Judgment notwithstanding the Verdict) comes into the picture. In U.S. federal civil court cases, this reversal is referred to as ‘renewed judgment as a matter of law’. For criminal cases, the term used is ‘judgment of acquittal’. JNOV can also be used by a judge to amend the verdict instead of completely reversing it. JNOV is essentially a system of checks and balances to ensure that jury decisions are in line with existing laws.

Limited understanding of legal matters – Most jury members have limited understanding of legal matters. In comparison, a judge has the requisite qualification and experience to better interpret evidence and arguments presented by the prosecutor and defendant. While respecting jury decision, a judge can make sure that the verdict is supported by adequate evidence and applicable laws.

Guilty and not guilty – It is rare for a judge to overturn either guilty or not-guilty verdict given by the jury. However, exceptions can always be there. In case of guilty verdict, a judge can overrule it only if there is no proper evidence establishing the guilt. In case of not-guilty verdict, it’s extremely rare that a judge will change the decision. That’s because such an act will be in violation of the defendant’s basic rights, as expressed in Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment. However, there could be exceptions if there’s clear evidence that establishes the guilt of the accused.

Biased jury decisions – As jury comprises members from the community, it is possible that they may be influenced through misleading arguments of the prosecution. This is where the judge needs to keep a close watch. It is the judge’s responsibility to ensure that jury members are presented with facts and not conjectures or assumptions.

Last but not least, a judge can review compensation amount. A judge amending the jury decision is most common in cases where compensation is decided by the jury. It is possible that the jury may have awarded a much higher compensation than what was needed in the case. If the judge feels that the jury has acted based on emotional factors such as passion or revenge, they can change the compensation amount.

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