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Colorado Criminal Law – Why The Jury is Not Allowed to Begin Deliberations Early

In Colorado, during a trial judge repeatedly instructs jurors in criminal cases that they cannot begin deliberations before all the evidence is received. In every trial, the DA or prosecutor starts every phase of the case. The DA goes first in Jury Selection, first in Opening Statement, he or she puts their case ( called their case in chief ) before the jury first. They Make their Closing Argument and they are allowed a second Closing Argument ( called the Rebuttal Argument ) just before the jury goes into the jury room before deliberating on a verdict.

The reasons behind this rule – ordering the jury NOT to begin deliberations before ALL the evidence has been heard… has to do with a defendants rights to due process and fair trial by an impartial jury …. for the following reasons:

(1) the jury system is meant to involve decisionmaking as a collective, deliberative process, and premature deliberations among individual jurors may thwart that goal;

(2) a juror who expresses views in the presence of other jurors is likely to continue to adhere to that opinion and therefore to approach the case with less than a fully open mind;

(3) premature deliberations may occur before a defendant has a chance to present all of his or her evidence and may, therefore, be unfavorable to [the] defendant in violation of the right to a fair and impartial trial;

(4) premature conclusions about a case effectively shift the burden to the defendant to change the opinion thus formed; and

(5) jurors who engage in predeliberation do so in a vacuum, without benefit of the court’s instructions.

The right to a fair trial by an impartial jury is one of the fundamental constitutional rights of a criminal defendant. The Courts have determined that permitting pre-deliberation discussions by a jury violates a defendant’s right under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution to a fair trial to an impartial jury, requiring reversal of the verdict.

The reason is that when a judge lets a jury begin deliberations early such permission to the jury shifts the burden of proof to the defendant because a juror might form an opinion based on part of the evidence, which could then only be removed by further evidence.

Courts are also concerned that a juror who expresses a pre-deliberation opinion to his or her fellow jurors would be disinclined thereafter to change his or her opinion.

The courts have reasoned that ” the human mind is constituted so that what one himself publicly declares touching any controversy is much more potent in biasing his judgment and confirming his predilections than similar declarations which he may hear uttered by other persons. When most men commit themselves publicly to any fact, theory, or judgment they are [too] apt to stand by their own public declarations, in defiance of evidence.

This pride of opinion and of consistency belongs to human nature. The thought expressed another way is that after expressing an opinion to his fellow jurors, one would be naturally inclined to give special attention to evidence strengthening or confirming those views.

The next time you hear the instruction NOT to begin deliberations before hearing all of the evidence – you will understand the fundamental reasons for that instruction.


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___________________________
H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
A Denver, Colorado Lawyer Focused Exclusively On
Colorado Criminal Law For Over 30 Years.
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