After closing arguments, the jury takes the reigns. The jury’s duty is to determine if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The final thing the jury will hear before heading to deliberations comes directly from the judge.

Jury Instructions

Before deliberations begin, the court will give the jury specialized instructions on what they are about to decide. Kansas uses “pattern instructions” for criminal cases. These instructions have accurately established the crime’s elements, the burden of proof, and any other issues that jury might need instructed on. The Kansas Supreme Court held in State v. Gallegos that these instructions should customarily be used unless special circumstances exist. If special circumstances exist, the court is allowed to modify the instructions as long as they still state the law accurately.

Here is an example of the pattern instruction for possession of a controlled substance, 57.040. The bracketed information is filled in according to the case at hand:

  • “The defendant is charged with unlawfully possessing [name of particular drug defendant is accused of possessing]. The defendant pleads not guilty. To establish this charge, each of the following things must be proved: (1) That the defendant possessed [particular drug involved]. (2) This act occurred on or about the [date] day of [month], [year], in [name of county], Kansas.”

The judge must also define important legal terms to the jurors, as these terms tend to have contrasting meanings from their everyday usage. To reference the above instruction, “possession” would have to be defined by the judge. This can appear odd as it is a common term, but the context in which it is used for this specific crime has narrowed and broadened meaning. The jurors would be instructed as so:

  • “‘Possession’ means having joint or exclusive control over an item with knowledge of and the intent to have such control or knowingly keeping some item in a place where the person has some measure of access and right of control.”

Therefore, it is not sufficient to bear the substance and not be aware of it, even though the common usage of the word would lend to make one think it does. On the contrary, the accused doesn’t actually have to have the substance on their person, rather it can be hidden somewhere that they have “some measure” of access or control over it. The legal definition has been expanded beyond the common definition. This is why jury instructions are important in exhibiting the differences to the jurors, but this is challenging as the instructions have to be stated in a completely neutral manner.

Deliberations

After receiving instructions from the judge, the jurors will be escorted to a private room to debate the verdict. The court’s bailiff will monitor the room and will not let anyone go in or out of the room. If the jury has questions or wants to see an exhibit, they can give the bailiff a written request to present to the judge. Many questions the jury has cannot be answered for a wide multitude of reasonings, usually it is because they cannot consider evidence that was not presented during the trial. The judge and both attorneys will review the jury’s question and give their response, even if it is simple a “no.”

Deliberations can take quite a bit of time. The jury is mandated to reach a unanimous verdict of either guilty or not guilty. If a jury cannot come to a unanimous decision, it is considered deadlock and results in a “hung jury” and thus a mistrial. A mistrial means the trial will have to be redone in front of a new jury. A pattern jury instruction exists to address deadlocking but administering it can be tricky. Instruction 68.140 and prior versions have given trial courts difficulties. The jury must decide the case on its facts, not its desire to finish the case, therefore a deadlock instruction cannot be coercive. In State v. Boyd, the jury reported it was deadlocked and the instruction was given. The Kansas Supreme Court held that the instruction was prejudicial error and required the case tried again. The takeaway from Boyd is that the instruction needs to be given before deliberations begin, if they are to be even given at all. When the instruction is given as a result of a deadlock, it can appear too assertive and can seem as if the judge is instructing the jury to reach a full verdict or stay in the jury room forever.

Announcing the Verdict

Upon the jury reaching a unanimous decision or becoming incurably deadlocked, it will notify the bailiff, judge, and lawyers. Each jury will sign the verdict form upon which the verdict is written on. The completed verdict form is given to the court in order for it to be read for the entire courtroom to hear. After the verdict is read aloud, the judge will ask the jury’s foreman if the verdict is correct. Sentencing is not determined on the verdict form. If a defendant is found guilty, a judge will determine the sentencing later on. After the verdict is confirmed, each attorney is allowed to inspect the verdict form to make sure no mistakes were made. Section 22-3421 grants authority to the judge, with the jury’s approval, to correct a defective verdict form.

The judge may also poll the jury. This inquiry is very limited, and its goal is to ensure that the verdict is unanimous and correct. If either party requests the jury to be polled, the judge will ask each individual jury what their vote was for the verdict. However, the court held in State v. Cheffen, that this request must be made promptly as once the jury is dismissed, it is too late.