Posted on 7/17/17

A key component of a criminal trial is the jury. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” This amendment is interpreted as providing a defendant a right to a jury trial, wherein the defendant’s “peers” make a determination as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

The concept of the jury trial is based on English common law, which mandated juries as part of providing citizens with a fair trial. During a trial, the representatives of each party speak to the jury in an attempt to convince the jury of the respective party’s position. A judge, who sits and directs the trial, generally will not decide guilt or innocence; instead, the judge is charged with deciding proper procedure and what evidence is proper. At the close of the trial, the judge provides the jury with instructions, called jury instructions, that the jury uses in formulating its decision.

One compelling question is whether the length of jury deliberation is telling as to the direction of the jury’s ruling. During murder trials, a jury may be determining the death penalty or a long term jail sentence for the defendant. Do such deliberations last longer because the defendant has more to lose?

OJ Trial

On June 12, 1994, the police found the bodies of Nicole Simpson, the ex-wife of former NFL star OJ Simpson, and Ron Goldman, a waiter who was friendly with Nicole. Speculation pointed to OJ. Police suspicion turned to OJ and that resulted in a low-speed car chase watched around the world. In January 1995, the OJ Simpson murder trial started. The trial was the most intense media spotlight on a legal matter in history.

On October 3, 1995, the jury returned a not guilty verdict and exonerated OJ. In truth, the jury received instructions on the morning of October 2nd at 11 am and then spent four hours deliberating. The presiding judge, Lance Ito, postoponed the reading of the verdict until the next morning. In the evening of October 2nd, experts were split whether the jury found OJ guilty. Some claimed that it was clear that there was no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, so the jury had an easy time saying not guilty; other experts suggested the opposite, claiming that there was overwhelming evidence suggesting that OJ was the murderer and that evidence was beyond a reasonable doubt.

In the end, the jury found OJ not guilty. Seemingly, the jury had an easy time determining OJ’s innocence, hence the short deliberation.

A jury deliberation length may be telling of a jury’s position with respect to how it views a defendant. Either way, jury deliberations are nerve-wracking for a defendant.

Accused of a crime? Contact the criminal defense firm of Christopher Abel, a board-certified criminal defense attorney.

(image courtesy of Davide Ragusa)

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