Why do judges or defendants “sound out” juries on verdicts?

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“Sounding the jury” is when each juror is asked to give their opinion verbally. A jury poll may be requested because each juror is an individual and the verdict should be determined by adding up individual marks. Jurors may pressure each other, and a judge may question the jury to see if someone changes their mind. Defendants may cross-examine the jury if the verdict is against them. A retrial with a new jury usually follows if a mistrial is declared. A defendant is unlikely to question the jury if found innocent, but the judge can still vote on the jury. In rare cases, a juror has changed their mind about an innocent verdict and found someone guilty, leading to a second trial.

“Sounding the jury” means asking each juror to give their opinion verbally, usually in a courtroom. Judges may do this periodically to make certain judgments stay the same, and defendants will almost certainly ask to conven a jury when a verdict isn’t in their favor. While this action rarely results in anything other than repeating a verdict, a juror can change his mind when questioned, resulting in some interesting circumstances.

One of the reasons a “jury poll” request might be issued is because the jury members are individuals. Each member of the jury is tasked with deciding, individually, what their verdict should be. Collective votes give a verdict, but the verdict shouldn’t be decided collectively. Instead, it should be determined by adding up individual marks, each of which represents a juror’s best personal analysis of how they viewed the evidence and the case.

In some circumstances, jurors pressure each other. They may want to go home, they may be feeling strongly about a case, or other reasons may apply. If a judge suspects that a juror is being pressured, he can question the jury to see if, in the interests of an open court, a person changes his mind. This could occur whether the sentence is guilty, not guilty, for or against a defendant. Because judges are human, some may conduct a poll as to whether the judgment might go in a different direction; this might be a little pressure applied to a jury, especially if a juror is reticent.

The defendant can also cross-examine the jury and often chooses to do so if a case has been decided against him or her. This is a last ditch effort barring an appeal to be found not guilty. If a juror changes his verdict, he allows the defendant’s attorney to seek a mistrial because the verdict is tainted by juror indecision. This does not mean that the defendant is free, and in the rare cases where this occurs, a retrial with a new jury usually follows.

A defendant is highly unlikely to question the jury if the jury vote has found him innocent. A juror could still change his mind, meaning that the innocent verdict ends in a hung jury instead. Few defendants will try their luck in this way and risk their freedom. On the other hand, the judge can still vote on the jury if he wishes. In exceptionally rare cases, a juror has changed his mind about a verdict of innocence and found someone guilty instead, creating the need for a second trial.

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