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A deliberation is a private meeting in which members of a jury or panel of judges discuss the facts of a case and reach a decision. Deliberations are conducted to determine guilt or innocence, and they may also be used when people are mulling a sentencing decision. The process of deliberation is an important part of many legal systems, providing an opportunity for the people who have heard the facts of the case to weigh them carefully and arrive at a determination which is based on logic and reason.
The classic example of a deliberation is a jury deliberation. Once a case is concluded, the jurors are escorted to a private room where they discuss the case and vote on whether the verdict should be for guilt or innocence. Multiple votes may take place as the jurors deliberate, and jurors are usually encouraged to try and reach a unanimous result, rather than a so-called “hung jury” in which the jurors cannot agree on a verdict.
Before the jurors enter the room for their deliberation, the judge delivers a set of instructions. The judge explains the standards for proof and discusses the various verdicts which can be returned. Jurors can ask for a copy of the instructions or to have the instructions repeated, and this is often recommended when the instructions are lengthy or complex.
During the deliberation, one juror is elected foreperson, and she or he usually supervises the process of deliberation, including counting votes and directing the discussion. Once a verdict is reached, the foreperson alerts a waiting bailiff, and the jury is escorted back into the courtroom for the reading of the verdict. In some cases, deliberation may last only a few minutes, while in others, it may extend for days. Sometimes the judge orders the jury sequestered during this period, meaning that they cannot interact with other people and are kept isolated until they have agreed on a verdict. Sequestration is ordered when there are fears that the jurors could be influenced by people from outside the courtroom.
Jurors are not allowed to coerce, force, or threaten each other during deliberations. While tensions sometimes run high in the juror room, ethical standards must be observed to ensure that the verdict is valid. If a juror feels forced into making a decision, this may be grounds for a legal challenge later, and thus the court wants to be careful to avoid any improprieties in the jury room.
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