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What is a Verdict?

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  • Written By: Michelle Baugh
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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A verdict is a legal term used to indicate that a jury has reached a decision in a court case. As a word, "verdict" has its root in the Latin word verdictum, which means "to tell the truth." The requirements for reaching a valid verdict vary by jurisdiction. In some locales, the jury must be unanimous in its decision, while in other areas, it must simply attain a majority vote.

Most juries are left to deliberate during regular court hours. If they are unable reach a decision by the end of the session, court is adjourned and deliberations resume the following court day. On occasion, however, juries do deliberate past session hours. If a decision is reached while court is not in session, the result is sealed in an envelope that is opened in front of the court during the next day.

One of the most widely known types of verdict is the one handed down during a criminal court case. Juries in criminal cases hand over either a "guilty" or "not guilty" verdict, which is sometimes read aloud by the foreman, also known as the head juror. In some criminal court cases, namely those in England, a jury won't be asked to hand down a formal decision. Instead, it will present the bare facts to the court but will leave the final decision to the judge.

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In matters of awarding financial settlements, some juries give what is called a quotient verdict, which happens when a jury is unable to come to a unanimous decision. To resolve the issue, each juror will write down the amount he feels is appropriate to award. After each jury member's amount is tallied, an average is taken, and this amount is handed over to the court. Although this process is sometimes used unofficially in court cases, it is illegal, and a mistrial can be declared if the jury is found out.

Another type of decision that can result in a mistrial during a financial settlement case is a compromise verdict. In the event the jury cannot make up its mind, the foreman takes the highest amount and the lowest amount proposed and splits the difference, which becomes the official award. The lack of rational deliberation and the potential for being unjust to one party is what makes this fall under jury misconduct.

Sometimes the word verdict is also used when a coroner declares his findings after sudden deaths. In these cases, a coroner's verdicts are his rulings on causes of death, such as suicide, accidental death, unlawful death, or natural death. This decision is a formal one and can be particularly important to the outcome of civil court cases or insurance inquiries.

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