January 19, 2019
In the words of Paul Harvey, here is a strange….
Sheena DiBenedetto was on trial for assault and battery in Massachusetts. After the case had been presented, the judge instructed the jury on the law, including the requirement that its verdict be unanimous.
After deliberating for about 40 minutes, the jury announced that it had reached a verdict. With the six-person panel in the courtroom, the court clerk asked if the jury had reached “a unanimous verdict.” The foreperson answered, “Yes, we have,” and that the verdict was guilty. After recording the verdict, the clerk asked the foreperson to confirm that the verdict of guilty was accurate. She responded, “That is correct.” The clerk then asked the entire jury if the guilty verdict was correct, and they affirmed that it was.
There was only one problem.
After the judge dismissed the jury, he went back to the deliberation room to meet with them briefly. He then learned that the verdict wasn’t unanimous; it was actually 4-2. He then told them to return to their deliberations.
Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the judge was wrong to reopen deliberations, writing that the power of a trial judge to send the jury out for further deliberations “terminates when the verdict is affirmed and recorded.”
In other words, if a jury mistakenly says, in open court, that its verdict was unanimous, there’s nothing no one can do about it.
Justice be damned.