A jury verdict is the conclusion reached by jurors based on the evidence presented by both parties to a criminal or civil trial. The verdict is different from a judgment, which is based on the jury verdict and entered by the judge, who must apply state laws. In criminal trials, court verdicts are either guilty or not guilty. In civil trials, the jury renders a general verdict to determine liability and damages or a special verdict to find factual findings on which a judge can determine a verdict. If the jury cannot reach a verdict, then the court will deem it a hung jury, and the case is often dismissed.
After both parties have presented closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jury on the applicable laws and the requirements for reaching a verdict. The process of reaching a verdict is referred to as jury deliberation. Members of the jury often take a vote at the beginning, during, and end of jury deliberation to determine whether a verdict is reached. There are some occasions in which the evidence is so overwhelming that the legal requirement for the jury to reach a unanimous or majority vote takes place within minutes of deliberation, upon the first vote. The foreman, one member of the jury selected by the other members, will announce the verdict in court to the judge.
Parties to a civil lawsuit can avoid a jury verdict by settlement as long as the case is settled prior to closing arguments. For example, a defendant may offer to pay for some of the damages that the plaintiff is seeking in exchange for ending the legal battle. Judges often give both parties the opportunity to settle the case, and the settlement has to be in writing. The defendant in a criminal trial can also reach an agreement with the prosecution prior to a jury verdict, which is often accepted by the judge. In those cases, the defendant usually admits guilt to some charges, and the prosecution agrees to dismiss some.
An attorney, pro se plaintiff, or pro se defendant can research a jury verdict as part of the case preparation in order to formulate strategies for the trial. There are regional and national databases that collect, review, and analyze jury verdicts, and the information is often compiled by trial attorneys. Judges will sometimes utilize the database in order to evaluate verdicts, especially if the verdict includes an award for damages.