Directed Verdict

A directed verdict occurs in a jury trial when the presiding judge orders the jury to return a specific verdict. This typically takes place when the judge learns that no reasonable jury could reach any other decision. After the directed verdict is ordered, the jury no longer has to decide the case, and is dismissed. A directed verdict may be ordered only for specific issues in the case, or it may pertain to the entire case. To explore this concept, consider the following directed verdict definition.

Definition of Directed Verdict

Noun

  1. An order made by a trial judge instructing the jury to return a specific verdict.

 

Origin

Middle English verdit

Directed Verdicts in Civil vs. Criminal Trials

A directed verdict is most often used in civil jury trials when a judge determines that the plaintiff does not have enough evidence to warrant a victory. In criminal suits, a judge can order a directed verdict if he believes that the prosecutor has failed to present solid proof of the defendant’s guilt.

Motion for Directed Verdict

After the plaintiff or prosecutor has presented all of the evidence, the party will announce that it rests. The jury may then excused from the courtroom giving the defendant’s lawyer the opportunity to make a motion for directed verdict on the grounds there is not enough evidence to prove the case. This is also known as asking the judge to dismiss the charges. If the motion for directed verdict is granted, the case ends, the defendant wins the case, and the jury is dismissed. If the judge denies the motion, the jury returns to the courtroom, and the defense begins presenting its evidence to disprove the plaintiff’s case.

Use of Directed Verdicts

While directed verdicts are rarely granted, they are requested frequently as a matter of procedure in both civil and criminal trials. If a directed verdict request is not made, the party that failed to request it may be unable to appeal if he loses the case. Appeals are commonly attempted if the losing party is unhappy with the sentencing, verdict, or judgment in a case, and feels an error has been made.

Historically, when a judge issued a directed verdict, he would instruct the jury to return the exact verdict. In modern times, however, a judge often returns the verdict without consulting the jury beforehand. A directed verdict can only be one of innocence to prevent a defendant from receiving an unfair trial. A directed verdict cannot find a defendant guilty of civil or criminal charges.

Ordering a Directed Verdict

In certain cases, one party or the other may ask the judge to order a directed verdict in their favor. In other cases the judge may make such a decision of his own accord, which is known as a directed verdict “sua sponte,” which means “of its own accord,” or “on its own motion.” A ordering a directed verdict can only be done after all evidence has been presented by the plaintiff. While a directed verdict may be used in a court trial (trial before a judge with no jury), it is most commonly used in jury trials.

The judge, regardless of where the request originated, has full discretion in ordering a directed verdict. Because this type of order is only issued when the evidence weighs more heavily in favor of one party, it stands to reason that a jury could determine the correct verdict according to the evidence presented. For example, if the evidence presented in a case is so lacking or inconsequential that the plaintiff is reasonably unable to win the case it seems likely the jury would dismiss the matter, or acquit, without being directed to do so.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Appeal – a request in which a person asks a higher court to reverse or review the decision made by a trial court. The appellate court can sustain the original ruling, reverse it, send it back to the trial court, or make a partial ruling.
  • Defendant – a person accused of criminal wrongdoing, or a person against whom a civil lawsuit has been brought.
  • Plaintiff – a party who initiates a civil or criminal lawsuit by filing a complaint with the court against the defendant(s) demanding damages or consequences.
  • Verdict – a decision made on a disputed issue in a civil or criminal court case.

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