How a Jury Functions

Lawyer for Tampa Criminal Defense

The right to a trial by jury is a fundamental right within the criminal justice system in America. Often, a jury trial works in a defendant’s favor because the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and this is harder to do when the prosecutor needs to convince six people (or 12 in the case of first degree murder) than it is when only the judge must be persuaded in a bench trial. Even so, juries are unpredictable, and there may be reasons why it would be wiser to enter a plea deal in your case. If you are facing charges and have questions about how a jury functions, it is wise to retain a Tampa criminal defense attorney with substantial trial experience. Hanlon Law provides strong defense strategies and trial representation for the accused.

Picking a Jury

Often cases are won or lost when juries are picked. The process of picking juries is called voir dire. Voir dire is a critical step during a jury trial. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.431(b) and Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.300(b) provide the right to conduct a reasonable examination of each juror orally. Trial courts vary with regard to how voir dire is conducted, but the overall purpose is to aid the parties in the selection of jurors by learning information about each person in the jury pool. Both sides have broad discretion over how the voir dire process unfolds.

Voir dire is the only meaningful opportunity for free exchange between jurors, the prosecutor, and the criminal defense attorney. Both sides can ask questions in an effort to discern whether a juror will be biased in deliberations, and who their bias might be directed against.

How a Jury Functions

You start your trial with a presumption of innocence in all criminal cases. It’s the prosecutor’s burden to establish every element of the criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt by introducing testimony and other evidence. While the defendant need not prove anything and can exercise the right to remain silent, you should make sure you have a knowledgeable trial attorney representing you. If you don’t adequately contest the prosecutor’s version of what happened and raise reasonable doubt, you could be convicted and face substantial penalties.

In a trial both sides have the opportunity to present their case to the jury. Witnesses that each side presents can be cross-examined or their credibility may be impeached. If you elect to testify on your own behalf, the prosecutor will be able to ask about prior felonies or misdemeanors in an effort to demonstrate your dishonesty and make the jury doubt your credibility.

The jury will deliberate after both sides make closing arguments. Deliberation is a process in which the jurors talk to each other to try to reach a guilty or not guilty verdict. Each juror is supposed to approach the case with an open mind, meaning that they must be willing to change their minds once they realize they may be wrong in how they interpret the evidence. During the deliberations, jurors are only allowed to talk to each other, not others outside the jury room, and they can only deliberate when all jurors are present in the jury room. Until they reach a verdict, jurors are not supposed to talk about the case to anyone through any communications technology or in person. They are not allowed to ask others for help. Further, jurors can’t have cell phones, laptops, tablets, or other electronic devices in the jury room.

Once the jury reaches a verdict, the jury foreperson will announce it. The judge will then discharge the jury. If you are found guilty, the judge will determine what sentence to impose. Otherwise, if you are found not guilty, you are entitled to leave.

Retain a Criminal Defense Attorney in Tampa

It’s important to be aware of how a jury functions if you’ve been indicted or charged with a crime in Tampa. It is also advisable to work with a seasoned criminal trial lawyer who has experience picking a jury. Our founder and principal Will Hanlon has represented those accused of a wide range of crimes since 1994, and has extensive trial experience. Please contact Hanlon Law at 813-228-7095 or via our online form.