Taking Your Case to Jury Trial in Massachusetts

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Every decision you make as a defendant in a Massachusetts criminal prosecution is important; however, the decision to let a jury decide your fate is arguably the most important decision you will make. Learn more about jury trial in Massachusetts in this report.

Transcript of Taking Your Case to Jury Trial in Massachusetts

  • TAKING YOUR CASE TO JURY TRIAL IN MASSACHUSETTS Every Decision You Make as a Defendant in a Massachusetts Criminal Prosecution Is Important; However, the Decision to Let a Jury Decide Your Fate Is Arguably the Most Important Decision You Will Make Kevin J. Mahoney
  • If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Massachusetts you will have a number of important decisions to make throughout the prosecution of your case. One of those decisions is whether or not to take your case to trial. If you do decide to proceed to trial you will then need to decide whether to let a jury decide your fate or waive your right to a trial by jury and try your case to a judge. Only an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney can review the unique facts and circumstances of your case and provide you with individualized advice regarding your options; however, a better understanding of the jury trial system may be beneficial in helping you make your ultimate decision. YOUR RIGHT TO A TRIAL BY JURY In the United States a number of rights are guaranteed to you in the United States Constitution and the subsequent Amendments thereto. The right to a trial by jury, as well as a number of other important rights is found in the Sixth Amendment which reads: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. Article XII of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution mirrors the right to a trial by jury found at the federal level and reads as follows:
  • No subject shall be held to answer for any crimes or offence, until the same is fully and plainly, substantially and formally, described to him; or be compelled to accuse, or furnish evidence against himself. And every subject shall have a right to produce all proofs, that may be favorable to him; to meet the witnesses against him face to face, and to be fully heard in his defense by himself, or his council at his election. And no subject shall be arrested, imprisoned, despoiled, or deprived of his property, immunities, or privileges, put out of the protection of the law, exiled, or deprived of his life, liberty, or estate, but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land. EXERCISING OR WAIVING YOUR RIGHT TO TRIAL BY JURY The right to a trial by jury is one of many fundamental rights you have in the United States. Some of your other important rights as an accused in a criminal prosecution include: The right to remain silent The right to counsel The right against self-incrimination The right to confront and cross examine witnesses against you Each of these rights is yours to exercise or waive. Just as you can decide to waive your right to remain silent (hopefully only after consultation with an experienced
  • Massachusetts criminal defense attorney) you can also decide to waive your right to a trial by jury. If, for example, you ultimately decide to enter into a plea agreement with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts you will need to waive your right to a trial by jury because you will need to plead guilty to the offense. You could also waive your right to a trial by jury because you have decided, again with the assistance and advice from an experienced attorney, to let a judge decide if you are guilty or not-guilty. HOW IS A JURY IMPANELLED? In a criminal prosecution in Massachusetts the jury will be made up of either six or 12 jurors. These jurors represent a jury of your peers. District Court juries are comprised of six individuals. Superior Court juries are made up of 12 jurors. Potential jury members are summoned from a master list held by the Office of
  • Jury Commissioner, or OJC. That list, in turn, is formed from the annual resident lists that are created by each of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. In this way, Massachusetts is unique because other states create their potential juror lists from much narrower records, such as voter registration records. With a broader potential jury pool you stand a better chance of actually ending up with a jury of your peers. VOIR DIRE CHOOSING THE JURY On the first day of trial, following motions in limine, jury selection begins with Voir Dire. Both the Defense lawyer and the prosecutor will submit written questions to the Court that they want put to those in the jury pool. The judge determines which, if any, of these questions to add to his list of routine questions. The entire Voir Dire process is devoted to unearthing and elimination of jurors with biases. However, the process can be invaluable to attorneys seeking insights into these potential jurors as they utilize their peremptory challenges or challenge a potential juror for cause. The number of challenges for cause is unlimited; however, a lawyer challenging a juror for cause must persuade the judge that the individual is disqualified from serving as a juror because he is related to a party, has an interest in the case, is biased, has already formed an opinion or suffers from a physical disability, such as loss of hearing, that would undermine his ability to follow the evidence or fully participate during deliberations. Lawyers will receive a limited number of peremptory challenges, which they can exerciseto excuse prospective jurors without having to cite a reason. These challenges, however, are limited to 12 per side in a prosecution where the potential punishment is life in prison and six per
  • side in any other criminal prosecution tried before a 12 person jury. For District Court trials, where the juries consistof only six jurors, lawyers are permitted only two peremptory challenges each. Prospective jurors will continue to be questioned and excused until all challenges have been used by each side. The individuals remaining in the jury box will be your final jury. THE JURORS ROLE During the trial a jurors role is simply to listen to all of the testimony and evidence presented by both sides. Judges instruct jurors, at the outset of the trial, not to form opinions until the deliberations begin. After both sides have concluded their closing statements the judge will recite the final instructions to the jury. These include a number of standard instructions about the role of the jury as well as several specific instructions relating to your charges. Your attorney will have the opportunity to review the proposed jury instruction ahead of time and even tender his or her own version for consideration. Once the instructions have been given the jury will be led from the courtroom to a private room to begin deliberations. Before they begin deliberating, however, a
  • foreperson will be chosen to lead the group and to communicate with the court. In a criminal trial the jury must reach a unanimous decision to find you guilty. That means that all 12 (or 6) jurors must be convinced that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to return a verdict of guilty.In a small percentage of cases the jury simply cannot agree on a unanimous verdict after a lengthy deliberation. When this occurs it is referred to as a hung jury. Most cases that end in a hung jury are retried within a relatively short period of time. Of course, the prosecutor can choose to nolle pro (drop) the charges or the two sides could attempt resolve the case by way of a plea agreement. Every decision you make as a defendant in a Massachusetts criminal prosecution is important; however, the decision to let a jury decide your fate is arguably the most important decision you will make and should only be made with the assistance of an aggressive Massachusetts criminal defense attorney.
  • About the Author Kevin J. Mahoney Kevin J. Mahoney is a Boston, Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer recognized nationwide for his high-profile courtroom victories, bestselling book on cross-examination, Relentless Criminal Cross-Examination, novel insights into trial strategy, and numerous television appearances. He is, perhaps, best known for overturning of the 1st-degree murder conviction of Christina Martin, dubbed the JELL-O Murderer by the national press and chronicled on television on Forensic Files (A Dessert Served Cold). He has won 47 of his last 50 trials. The prestigious National Trial Lawyers has named him one of The Top 100 Trial Lawyers consistently since 2007. Avvo, the national lawyer rating service, rates Attorney Mahoney a 10.0/10.0 for superb. In addition to a thriving Massachusetts criminal defense practice, Mr. Mahoney has maintained a steady and successful civil practice for almost two decades, handling complex international contract negotiations; patent licensing; civil litigation; breach-of-contract disputes; landlord/tenant litigation; and obtaining, defending and asserting worldwide intellectual property rights. Mahoney Criminal Defense Group Suite 22, 545 Concord Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 Phone: 617-492-0055 Website: www.relentlessdefense.com