During the Sandusky trial, MaleSurvivor Communications Committee Chair Thomas Hodson (who is himself a former attorney, trial judge, and is now a journalist) will be sharing with us some helpful explanations of the stages of a criminal trial. Our hope is that sharing this information here will help people better understand what is going on behind the scenes, and eliminate some of the confusion and uncertainty that will inevitably come up. Please follow our Twitter (@malesurvivorORG) and Facebook pages for more information and reactions as well.
Sandusky Trial: Jury Instructions
After the drama of closing arguments, the judge has the austere duty of instructing the jury on the law to be used when deciding the case. This process is called “jury instructions” or the “jury charge.”
The judge will tell the jurors that they are the determiners of the facts in the case based upon the evidence (testimony and exhibits) presented. They will be instructed to apply the law, as he gives it, to the facts of the case in order to arrive at a verdict on each count of the case. He will charge them with following the law as he pronounces it to be.
The judge will likely read the rather lengthy instructions to the jury. Sometimes the jurors are provided copies of the instructions and asked to read along with the judge. This process can be lengthy and, quite frankly, boring but it is an essential and extremely important part of the trial procedure.
This will be the first time the jurors will receive the exact wording of the law that they are to use. The judge also will spend a good deal of time explaining the burden of proof and defining “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The judge also will instruct the jury that the defense has no burden of proof – that the defense is not required to prove anything. He will tell them about the presumption of innocence – that the defendant is presumed not guilty until all 12 jurors can unanimously decide on a verdict of guilty.
He will tell them that it is improper for them to draw any inference from the fact that the defendant did NOT testify. He will say that there is NO legal or constitutional requirement for the defendant to testify and that the jurors cannot draw any inference from the defendant not taking the witness stand. They CANNOT hold it against him.
Finally, the judge will explain to the jurors what they should do when they first begin their deliberations. He will tell them that they should pick a foreperson to make sure that their deliberations and discussions are orderly. He will stress that each juror should have the opportunity to speak and that each juror –although these are collective verdicts – should decide each case individually in accordance with his/her view of the evidence and application of the law. He also will instruct them on how to complete the written verdict forms when a verdict is reached on each count of each case.
Once the instructions have concluded, the jury will begin its deliberations and may be sequestered until the verdicts are reached or until the jury convinces the judge that it cannot arrive at a unanimous verdict.
Throughout the deliberations, the jury may ask the judge questions about the law or his instructions. Those questions are written and submitted to the judge. He will share any questions with counsel for both sides. Sometimes the judge will respond in writing and sometimes the judge will answer the questions orally with all the parties and the defendant present.