A directed verdict is a case in which a judge stops a trial on the grounds that the burden of proof has not been met and there is only one possible verdict in the case, which would be dismissal in the case of a civil case and acquittal in the case of a criminal one. Directed verdicts are rare, but they do happen. Lawyers may file a motion for directed verdict or a motion for dismissal on the grounds that the other side has not presented enough evidence to prove its case.
Directed verdicts occur when it is clear that the side which bears the burden of proof has failed to satisfy it and that as a matter of law, the court cannot rule in favor of this side. This may occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from poorly presented evidence to lack of evidence to support the charges being brought in court. While the jury can decide on matters of fact after hearing all of the evidence, judges can weigh the fact of law and determine that one side has no case and the trial should not go forward.
When a lawyer files a motion for directed verdict, the judge will weigh the legal aspects of the case and determine whether or not a directed verdict is supportable. Many lawyers file such motions without a realistic hope of having the judge return a directed verdict, but it may be a step in the legal process for a given case. If the motion is denied, the lawyer will have to present a case which refutes the case set out by the other side.
Lawyers discuss motions they are planning to make in court with their clients, to allow their clients an opportunity to have input into the handling of the case. In addition, explaining helps people understand how the legal process works so that they will be able to follow the events of the trail.
Historically, when a directed verdict was given, judges instructed the jury to return the verdict, while today a directed verdict may be returned without consulting the jury. The directed verdict cannot be one of guilt, because this would deprive someone of a fair trial; if the burden of proof for guilt appears to have been satisfied, the defense still has an opportunity to refute claims made by opposing counsel in its own arguments. Failure to allow the defense to present would be considered a miscarriage of justice.