In court, both sides of a case are presented to the judge and a jury of the defendant’s peers. However, it’s common for jury members to have very little knowledge of the law. Though they must operate within certain boundaries and make judgments solely based on facts, it’s not always easy. Because of this, they’re sometimes prone to make decisions based on emotions instead of facts. They may also be liable to overlook certain aspects of the case or make generalizations.
The judge, with ample legal knowledge, will occasionally see things differently than the jury does. If he or she feels the jury made a decision that isn’t reasonably supported by the evidence of a case, the judge can overturn the verdict in certain situations. While it’s very rare, it does happen every once in a while.
This is typically called a judgment of acquittal or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). In the event of a guilty verdict the defense almost always makes a motion for the judge to give one of these judgments. The motion is usually denied by the judge, so the defense has to appeal the verdict to a higher court if they feel the ruling was unfair. However, there will occasionally be a situation where the judge will decide that there was no way the jury fairly reached their decision beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Judge’s Limitations
By now, you’re probably worried that there may be judges overturning verdicts unjustly. To prevent an abuse of power, there are processes in place. For example, a judge can never overturn a verdict of not guilty. This would violate the defendant’s 5th Amendment right to having a fair trial by a jury of peers. To overturn a guilty verdict, the judge must look at all evidence presented most favorable to the prosecution. The judge can only grant judgment to overturn the verdict if the evidence clearly fails to establish guilt.
The legal process is sacred to professionals in the field, and the trial process is almost always fair and reasonable. A judge will never interfere with a jury’s decision and process unless there is a legitimate reason. This is why it’s so rare for a judge to overturn a verdict. What’s more common is a judge ruling to reduce the amount of damages.