Given that both my practice and home are in the same town in which Aaron Hernandez resides (when not in prison) and also where the murder of Odin Lloyd was allegedly committed, I should not be surprised that I have been asked so many times within the last couple of days, “Why is the Aaron Hernandez verdict taking SO long? Does this mean that the jury is going to find him not guilty?”
Overall, people seem frustrated that the verdict has taken more than “10 minutes.” Popular opinion convicted Hernandez a couple of years ago; however, the actual process of trial by jury is much more complicated.
There was a substantial amount of evidence presented in Commonwealth v. Hernadez. Even the most casual follower of the case knows that there was a lot of evidence not allowed to be presented by the prosecutor during the trial. Excluded evidence was either irrelevant to proving the alleged crimes or too prejudicial given the probative value (what it is intended to prove). Even after all of those exclusions, the jury has an enormous amount of information that they need to review and discuss during deliberations.
The Court provides instructions to the jury prior to any deliberation. All jurors are given a mini-lesson in legal proceedings and substantive law, which can be complicated and extensive. Often, such as happened in this case, the jury requires clarification on the meaning of a law.
The real work begins once a jury enters the deliberation room. First, the jury must elect a presiding juror or foreperson. Depending on the number and personalities of the jurors involved, this process can take a while to determine who should serve in this important position. In a high profile case, like Commonwealth v. Hernandez, there may be hesitation to be chosen as foreperson, due to concerns of notoriety or, potentially, safety.
The foreperson must be organized and assertive. In addition to making any needed inquiries of the Court and delivering the verdict, he or she is responsible for focusing and guiding the discussion. The foreperson must be careful to allow everyone an opportunity to speak, respect all opinions and viewpoints, review and follow jury instructions, examine all evidence, and discuss each alleged crime, one at a time. He or she must also organize any and all voting during the deliberations.
Voting in the jury room can occur at several times during deliberation. Some juries vote soon after entering into deliberations, but most wait until all evidence and corresponding law has been discussed and reviewed extensively. Voting can be anonymous, by written ballot, or out in the open, by verbal commitment or raising of the hand. There often multiple rounds of voting, as well as persuasive and heated discussions, prior to the verdict.
A verdict is the most common outcome of a trial. When a verdict is delivered to the Court, it means that the entire jury has voted and agreed upon the decision about whether a defendant is guilty or not-guilty. Often, the prosecutor will poll the jury, or ask each juror to separately confirm the verdict, to assure that the reported verdict is accurate. Occasionally, a verdict cannot be reached.
Mistrials usually occur when a jury cannot agree on a verdict. If a mistrial seems likely, the Court may attempt to intervene and provide additional instruction or clarification, hoping that it will help the jury to reach a verdict. Mistrials are fairly unusual, but often result in a new trial and with a different jury.
Is Hernandez guilty? That is not a question for me to decide (you didn’t actually think that I was going to answer that, did you?). Even if I followed the case religiously, which I did not, it would not be my decision. The jury has the tough task of deciding whether he killed Odin Lloyd. They must use evidence presented, not gut instinct, speculation, or media reports, in reaching their verdict- and it must be beyond a reasonable doubt.
As always, please feel free to contact me for additional information. Please feel free to send this newsletter to anyone who may be interested. Receipt of same is not intended to offer specific legal advise or create an attorney-client relationship.