Deliberations in the Jury Room – What really Happens


By: Janet Portman

Jury deliberations in a criminal trial are the stuff of drama and mystery: Drama because they come at the end of an often contentious trial; mysterious because what goes on behind the closed door to the jury room generally remains a secret. This article explains how jurors are instructed to interact, how they are treated during their deliberations, and what happens when, occasionally, the court needs to intervene.

A Juror’s Duty

People on a jury are instructed by the judge that they must deliberate with one another in an attempt to reach a verdict. Jurors are told to approach the case with open minds, and to change their minds if they realize they are wrong. Reaching a compromise verdict (in which some jurors support a verdict only in order to reach a conclusion) is a violation of the duty to deliberate. Deliberations cannot begin until all are present, and they cannot continue if someone leaves the room.

The Care and Handling of the Jury

Jurors are largely left to themselves to come and go during the trial, but once the case is submitted to the jury (following closing arguments and the court’s instructions), the jury is kept together, under the supervision of a court officer. The officer accompanies them to lunch and guards the jury room door while they are inside. Keeping the discussions during deliberations a secret will help prevent the jury from being influenced by outside considerations or informationTwelve Angry Men

Judges often admonish the jury every time it separates for the day, reminding them not to discuss the case with anyone else and to refrain from doing any independent research.

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