There are a lot of steps in any criminal trial, and some of those steps may seem rather pointless to people unfamiliar with the process – but they’re not.
Consider, for example, the moment after a verdict is read and one side or the other (usually the side that lost) asks for the jury to be polled. What’s the point, right? The jury just gave their verdict, so why bother asking them again – moments later – to affirm their vote?
Well, steps like that are taken because jurors are human, and human beings are notoriously capable of being pressured into doing things they don’t really want to do by their peers. Nobody knows exactly what went on inside that jury room except the jurors themselves, so it’s in the interest of justice to make absolutely certain that the verdict truly represents the jury’s collective will.
Has polling the jury ever helped a defendant?
It has. Consider, for example, a recent murder trial in Florida. Jurors were asked to decide if the defendant was guilty of murder, guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter or not guilty. After several days of deliberation, they returned a verdict of manslaughter.
Then, the court polled the jurors. The very first juror to be asked, immediately admitted that she did not agree with the verdict.
Do you know what happens when one juror refuses to go along with the rest? You get a mistrial. In this particular case, the judge sent the jurors back for another round of deliberations, but they remain hopelessly deadlocked. That left a mistrial as the only option.
There’s no such thing as a “mere formality” when it comes to any stage of a criminal trial. If you’re facing serious criminal charges, make sure that you take advantage of every possible means of defense.