Why does a Judge or Defendant "Poll the Jury" About Its Verdict?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

To "poll the jury" is to ask each juror to render his or her judgment verbally, usually in an open court setting. Judges may do this periodically to make certain judgments remain the same, and defendants will almost certainly ask for a jury to be polled when a verdict is not in their favor. Even though this action seldom results in anything but repetition of a verdict, a juror can change his or her mind when polled, resulting in some interesting circumstances.

Jurors rarely change their mind when polled, but it does happen on occasion.
Jurors rarely change their mind when polled, but it does happen on occasion.

One reason why a "poll the jury" request might be issued is because jury members are individuals. Each jury member is charged with the task of deciding, as an individual, what his or her verdict should be. Collective votes render a verdict, but the verdict is not supposed to be decided collectively. Instead, it should be determined by summing up individual votes, each representing a juror's best personal analysis of how he or she saw the evidence and case.

Polling a jury involves asking each juror their decision about the verdict.
Polling a jury involves asking each juror their decision about the verdict.

In some circumstances, jurors place pressure on one another. They might want to get home, they may feel strongly about a case, or other reasons might apply. If a judge suspects that pressure is being applied to a juror, he may poll the jury to see if, in the protection of open court, a person changes his or her mind. This could occur whether the judgment is guilty, not guilty, or for or against a defendant. Since judges are human, some may conduct a poll on the chance that judgment might go in a different direction; this could be a little pressure applied to a jury, especially if one juror is holdout.

The defendant may poll the jury too, and frequently chooses to do so if a case has been decided against him or her. This is the last ditch effort, save an appeal to be declared not guilty. Should a juror change his verdict, it allows the defendant's attorney to move for mistrial because the verdict is tainted by the juror's indecision. This doesn't mean the defendant is free, and in the rare instances where this occurs, a new trial usually follows with a new jury.

It is highly unlikely that a defendant would poll the jury if the jury vote has declared him or her innocent. A juror could still change his or her mind, which means the innocent verdict ends in a hung jury instead. Few defendants would tempt fate in this manner and risk their freedom. On the other hand, the judge can still poll the jury if he or she chooses. In exceptionally rare instances, a juror has changed his mind about an innocent verdict and declared someone guilty instead, creating the need for a second trial.

Each jury member is charged with the task of deciding, as an individual, what her or his verdict should be.
Each jury member is charged with the task of deciding, as an individual, what her or his verdict should be.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon982754

I strongly agree with the post above from anon112115, wishing I, too, had changed my mind. Instructions seemed clear from the judge on how to proceed with our deliberations, yet the instructions were not interpreted in the same manner by each juror.

anon348764

This is a disgusting practice. It leaves the 'offending' juror open to reprisals and in danger of retaliation. If a judge wants to poll a jury it should be done in chambers and away from the defendant. Too many times people have been killed 'from prison' because of their voting in a trial.

anon305800

"Why is the word poll used?"

The term 'poll' is another word for 'survey' by asking a question. The judge questions the jurors to see if they have the same verdict individually as they do as a whole.

anon225683

I'm none the wiser. Why is the word poll used? Did the practice originate in Poland? Or did the jury used to cast their votes with long sticks or poles?

anon218027

The jury said guilty then when polled the first juror said not guilty twice. The person was still sent to jail for taking a minor to get a piercing.

anon112115

I wish I had changed my verdict during polling. At the time, I didn't know if I really had the option to do that. After reading this, I wish I had.

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