Skip to content

Kenneth Ellman: It is Wrong for Judge to Criticize Jury Verdict

From Kenneth Ellman,

Phone: 9738968284.

As regards the original 1994 newspaper article headline “Judge scolds jury for acquittal in DWI crash” , it does bring back memories.

Even today I remember when I saw the Newspaper Headline that it just made no sense to me.

A Criminal Jury trial was held and the Jury rendered a verdict. There was no allegation of Juror misconduct or Jury tampering. This was simply a verdict that went against the Prosecution.

What was different here was the reported criticism of the Jury by an Honorable and respected Superior Court Judge who it was reported simply disagreed with the verdict. From time to time many people are unhappy with a Jury Verdict. That is nothing new. And we of course know that Juries are sometimes wrong as happens to everyone in life. I have always believed though that in criminal cases where a prosecution fails, we normally cannot blame the Jury. If the Jury did not believe the proofs of the Prosecutor whose fault is that? If the Prosecutor does not convince the Jury, then is the Jury to be blamed? I don’t think so. Prosecutors are also human beings and some do a better job and prepare more carefully for trial than others. In this case the interviews with the Jurors after trial showed they believed the Prosecution had not done what it had to do. So the Jurors did what they understood they had to do which was find the Defendant not guilty. All the parties to a trial are human beings and will make mistakes. But the reason we have trial by Jury is that we all know there is really no other alternative that does what a trial by Jury does. Whether in civil or criminal matters, trial by jury is what distinguishes America from many other countries and it is something I think that most of us are proud of as Americans. In civil cases I have always believed that Jurors should be allowed to reach a verdict and then in an appropriate case the Court can always set aside a verdict as authorized by our law. I believe that Motions on Summary Judgment or Failure to Make a Prima Facie case are too frequently granted. A Court can always review and act on a Jury verdict after it is rendered. The Appellate Court at least can then review a complete record and Jury verdict. I remember an old but famous criminal case where the Court would not grant Defendants motion to dismiss when the Prosecution rested. So the Defense had to go forward. Now there was a complete record. Then after the Guilty verdict was rendered by the Jury the Court set the criminal verdict aside to much adverse publicity. The Judge was really unfairly criticized. But now at least there was a complete record. Later the Appellate Court affirmed that action by the trial Judge in setting aside the Jury verdict. The Judge was vindicated. Vindication did not matter though since the Courts commendable action in allowing the Jury to render a verdict and then later doing what had to be done, resulted in the Judge losing renomination. We should never be afraid of Juries. Our law has corrective mechanisms to review the verdict of a Jury, whether Civil or Criminal, and our learned Trial and Appellate Courts can take action at that time. But when we deprive a Jury of the right to reach a verdict Justice does not gain, it suffers and is strangled. And when we criticize a Jury for doing what we ask it to do, and such criticism comes from the Court itself, we do no service to what we believe in. I have no idea if the original newspaper reports of the Judges comments were accurate. I based my article on such reports. Kenneth Ellman,, Phone: 9738968284

Download the PDF file .