Journalist's Guide

the witnesses. In addition to making evidentiary rulings and managing the courtroom, a key judicial responsibility in criminal jury trials is instructing the jury. While the jurors are the sole judges of the facts, the weight of the evidence and credibility of the witnesses, it is the judge’s job to explain the relevant law to be applied to the case. Instructions are subject to review by the appellate courts and frequently become a vehicle for new case law.

The last event before the jury retires to deliberate is the closing argument. The state with its burden of persuasion argues first with the defense going second. The state, however, is afforded time to rebut the defense.

Jury verdicts must be unanimous in criminal cases. All 12 jurors need to agree on a verdict of guilty or not guilty. When a jury reports it is hung and has not deliberated for an inordinate period of time, judges often give a so-called “Allen Charge” admonishing the jurors to work out their disagreements. However, if the jury remains deadlocked, eventually the judge will discharge the jury and the state may elect to retry the defendant at a new trial before a new jury. When there is a guilty verdict, new trial motions are usually filed immediately by the defense, but those motions are rarely granted. The standard is very high for the trial court to set aside a Sentencing practice in Maryland courts grant much discretion to the trial judge. Sentencing in District Court usually occurs immediately after the trial is concluded. In the Circuit Courts it is often held later. In serious cases, the judge usually first orders a pre-sentence report for criminal record and social-medical-psychiatric history. Sentencing considerations may include punishments, deterrents, and rehabilitation along with other factors. While the General Assembly has enacted some mandatory minimum sentences, most crimes require relatively high maximum sentences but no rigid minimums. Sentencing guidelines for Maryland courts are advisory only. While plea bargains can specify a particular sentence, absent such a binding plea, the sentencing judge usually has much latitude in imposing the sentence – from life without parole in first-degree murder to probation before judgment for many charges. If a motion is filed within 90 days of the sentence, a judge may also exercise revisory power over a sentence already imposed and change it. In criminal matters, the revisory power is in effect for five years from the date of sentencing. Appeals Of course, defendants who are convicted have a lengthy appeal process open to them. In District Court, cases which are appealed go to the Circuit Court de novo , that is, the case is re-tried as if it had never been heard; if that case is appealed from the Circuit Court, it would be within the discretion of the Court of Appeals to decide whether it will hear the appeal. jury verdict. Sentencing


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