Closing Arguments

The prosecution goes first, followed by the defense and a rebuttal by the prosecution. Because the prosecution has the burden of proof, it gets the final word.

Jury Instructions, Deliberations, and the Verdict

After the closing arguments, the judge will give the jury its final instructions. Both sides may contest the content of those instructions because they can have an enormous effect on the jury’s verdict.

During deliberations, the jurors may have questions about the evidence or the instructions. They will give a note to the Deputy Marshal or some court employee, who will take it to the judge. The judge will then call the lawyers back into court, discuss what the answer to the note should be, call the jurors back into the courtroom, and give them the answer.

Criminal juries must reach a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty. The jury may say at some point that it is hopelessly deadlocked. At this point, judges typically give the jury what’s known as an Allen charge. Named after a 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case, the Allen charge urges jurors to reconsider their opinions and try again to reach a verdict. If they attempt to do so but still report they are deadlocked, the judge may declare a mistrial.

In most federal courthouses, once a jury has reached a verdict, it is announced as soon as all the lawyers can get to the courtroom. You may have as little as 15 minutes warning.

Once a jury’s members have been dismissed by the judge, you are free to speak to them. (The clerk’s office may be willing to provide the names and addresses of the jurors, unless the jury is anonymous.) Still, no juror is obligated to speak with you.

In high-profile cases, the crush of media attention can be overwhelming for some jurors. In such cases judges will sometimes have court security personnel escort the jurors out a back door of the courthouse. You may want to suggest to your contact person in the clerk’s office that the judge ask any jurors who would be willing to speak to the media to remain in the jury room or convene at a specific location inside or outside the courthouse. That gives journalists the access they want, while providing a controlled environment in which the jurors can feel comfortable.

 

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