Trials & Litigation

After Trial Win, Defense Lawyer Polls Jury, Gets Guilty Verdict

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When a Washington state jury came back into the courtroom with a not guilty verdict in a vehicular assault case on Monday morning, defendant Patricia Sylvester cried tears of joy.

But then her defense lawyer asked for the jury to be polled, and the first juror said she didn’t agree with the not-guilty verdict, reports the Whidbey News-Times.

After a sidebar discussion between the judge, the prosecutor and defense attorney, Island County Superior Judge Alan Hancock told the jury its decision must be unanimous and sent the panel back for further deliberations, the newspaper recounts. When it returned that afternoon, it was with a guilty verdict—albeit to the least serious of the charges that the 49-year-old Sylvester was facing.

As Legal Blog Watch points out, the move by defense lawyer Charles Hamilton to poll the jury violated what some see as Rule No. 1 of trial advocacy—when the judge agrees with you, say nothing further. (Others consider Rule No. 1 to be either getting paid or avoiding a personal jail sentence, the law blog notes.)

The original not-guilty verdict for Sylvester resulted from a misunderstanding by the jury of the judge’s instructions before they began their deliberations, prosecutor David Carman tells the newspaper. When Hancock said their verdict must be unanimous, the jury understood that instruction to mean that they must find Sylvester not guilty if they couldn’t agree on a verdict.

Hat tip: Simple Justice.

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