A special verdict form is crucial when there is a jury trial or an appeal. Every juror in a court case needs to review the complete set of verdict forms before deciding a verdict. Jurors will first review the set of verdicts, where they need to find all the special verdicts that have been presented to them by the lawyers and check their appropriate boxes on the form.
A verdict form is a document given to a jury to help guide them in making their decision. It often lists the number of votes needed for a unanimous verdict, as well as what would constitute a legal decision. A verdict form also includes a detailed list of the criminal charges and possible defenses. Every criminal case that is tried before a jury must conclude with a unanimous verdict, or a mistrial will be declared.
How to Prepare Verdict Forms
Preparing verdict forms for a trial is time-consuming and requires a delicate balance between order and simplicity. Legal and strategic considerations must be considered when drafting the verdict form. Also, your verdict form should be in line with your instructions. Creating the right special verdict form will ensure you win at trial and help your client appeal. Here is how:
Say What You Mean. Your proposed verdict form should be clear and precise. It will be difficult to convince an appellate court that the trial court erred by failing to adopt your proposed verdict form if your proposed verdict form is unclear.
Explain What the Jury’s Answers Mean. A verdict form should explain what the jury’s answers mean so that no confusion or error is attributed to the jury on appeal. As such, the verdict form will provide the appellate court with a clear roadmap as to what the jury intended. It will ensure the verdict form is not misleading, confusing, or prejudicial and mirrors the law accurately.
Verify That the Jury Charge Matches the Proposed Verdict Form. Your appeal record will be damaged if a proposed verdict form does not match the jury charge. Ensure both documents contain the same proposed language and objections.
Get It in Writing. Your proposed language and objections concerning the verdict form should be documented in writing. The charge conference is not the place to rely solely on oral arguments because you may forget – and waive – a critical argument.
Avoid Duplication. It is essential to examine the verdict form carefully for potential duplications. Even if you lost the same argument at the summary judgment or directed verdict stage, refuse to include duplicative causes of action on the verdict form.
Know the Risks Associated with Compound Questions. It may force the appellate court to “guess what the jury decided because of the compound nature of the question. Try to simplify complicated questions.
Don’t Overreach. Cite the relevant statutes and cases using neutral language. The idea of defending a lengthy case before an appellate court, or worse, of having a verdict overturned, would be unfortunate.
When You Don’t Want a Question Asked, Say So. Ensure that you indicate on the verdict form if you do not want a particular question asked of the jury. The jury should not interpret your form as an implicit agreement to the question being presented to them.
Pay Attention to Multiple Defendants. If you represent multiple defendants, there are special considerations in crafting the verdict form. You should ask jurors to provide a separate, specific response in the jury verdict form for each defendant.
At Hunker Appeals, we can help you Prepare verdict forms for the jury to use. If you live in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Weston, Miami, West Palm Beach, or one of the other surrounding Florida communities and need an appeals attorney, Hunker Appeals is here to provide a smooth path through the appeals process.
Call or email us now to set up a consultation.
Hunker Appeals, 110 Southeast 6th Street, Suite 2330, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 877-906-5656.
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