Waiting for a verdict to be returned in a criminal case can be an excruciating time for the attorneys, the victims and most of all the defendant. The prosecutor begins to wonder if he has done everything possible to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. While the jury deliberates, the prosecution and defense attorney can work out a plea bargain. This is an arrangement where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser offense rather than take a chance with the jury. If the prosecutor and defense agree on a plea deal, then the jury will be thanked for the service and dismissed by the judge.
The Costs of Jury Trials
The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees defendants the right to be tried by a jury. In the case of Williams v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a jury is not required to have 12 members. During tough economic times, states throughout the nation are seeking ways to cut their budgets. The cost of litigating criminal cases with a jury can get quite expensive if the case is complicated or requires a lengthy time to prosecute. This is why District Attorney’s are willing to offer the defendant a plea deal and save the expense of using court resources.
The average daily cost of running a Superior Court in a major city is around $10,000. This only includes the salaries of the judges, prosecutors, public defenders and support staff. The cost of jury trials increase because of the following:
- Sequestering the Jury—In cases that receive a great deal of publicity, it may be necessary to sequester the jury to keep them out of the media spotlight. Mob cases where witnesses have been threatened may need to be secluded from the public. The cost of housing 12 jurors for a lengthy criminal case can end up costing millions. The State of Missouri requires all juries to be sequestered in a death penalty case. Prior to 2001, the State of New York required juries to be sequestered in all violent felony cases.
- The Serious Nature of the Case—Criminal cases that take a long time to litigate end up costing much more. There are dozens of witnesses who need to testify, including expert witnesses who provide lengthy and complicated testimony. In the case of The People of the State of California v. Scott Peterson, there were 184 witnesses called to take the stand. The trial ended up costing the taxpayers of Stanislaus County $4.13 million dollars.
Death penalty cases are much more expensive to litigate because they consist of two separate phases. The first phase is when the jury decides if the defendant is innocent or guilty. If they return a guilty verdict, the next phase deals with the sentencing. An average death penalty case costs the taxpayers approximately $3 million dollars.
Verdict by Judge or Jury
There are a variety of scenarios that can happen in a criminal case, some of which can be extremely important for the defendant. These include some of the following:
In a criminal case, the prosecution begins by presenting all of the relevant evidence they have uncovered. The burden of proof rests upon the State that is required to prove the defendant is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. The prosecution rests after they are done presenting their case to the jury. At this time, the defense can ask for a directed verdict from the judge. This is a request to acquit the defendant because the prosecution has not met their burden of proof and the case lacks sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. The trial judge may grant a directed verdict if he believes that the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.
Reserving Decision & Directed Verdict
The court may decide to reserve the decision on the defense’s motion for a directed verdict. The judge can choose to continue the trial and submit the case to the jury. A decision on the motion must be rendered before the jury returns with a verdict.
Motion to Set Aside
The defense attorney can request a motion to have the verdict set aside if his client has been found guilty. This can happen after the verdict is returned but before the court imposes the sentence. The trial judge can modify or set the verdict aside if he believes that the conviction would be overturned on appeal. Before the defendant’s sentence is handed down, there have been cases where new evidence has come to light. The judge can choose to set the verdict aside and grant the defendant a new trial if the evidence is compelling.
When the defendant has been charged with more than one count, the jury has to decide guilt or innocence on each count. Sometimes a jury reaches a partial verdict but remains deadlocked as to the remaining counts. In the case of People v. Rivera, the foreperson informed the court that they found the defendant guilty of a single count. They acquitted Rivera on four other counts and were unable to reach a decision on the remaining six counts. The trial judge refused to accept the partial verdict. He ordered the jury to resume deliberating on all eleven counts. The jury then returned with a verdict finding Rivera guilty on 10 out of the 11 counts he was charged with.
The New York Court of Appeals found that the trial court violated New York State laws dealing with a partial verdict procedure and found that the court had infringed on the defendant’s right to a trial by jury.