My knowledge of law is minimal, I'm curious about edge cases in the jury/judge dynamic. When can they override each other, interesting situations where decisions that would typically be made by one party gets made by the other?


4 Answers 4


It depends on what the jury said, and if it's criminal or civil.

In criminal cases, the judge may almost never set aside a verdict of acquittal. There is a single case in the US in which this happened, and it was a bench trial (no jury). That case featured the defendant bribing his trial judge; the Seventh Circuit held that he was never in jeopardy due to the bribe. As far as I can tell, that's the only one. There have been no cases that I can find of a jury's verdict of acquittal being overturnable. Judges can poll the jury to make sure they're unanimous (at least in federal court), and if they aren't then it's a mistrial, but that's because the jury was never in agreement in the first place.

On the other hand, a judge has several ways to enforce an acquittal. In federal court, for instance, the defense can move for a motion of acquittal either before or after the case goes to the jury. If the motion is granted before the verdict, double jeopardy applies to retrial. If it's granted after a conviction, then the judicial acquittal can be reversed on appeal, possibly requiring a new trial.

Before the verdict is returned, the judge can declare a mistrial. After the verdict is returned, it's too late for that.

In civil cases, things are more complicated: double jeopardy does not exist there. There, there is a notion of a judgment as a matter of law: the judge determines that, based on evidence presented, no reasonable jury could possibly find the other way. This can happen before or after the verdict, and is appealable.

  • 1
    My understanding is a bribed jury would also end up in an overturned acquittal (but if you got here you've got worse problems).
    – Joshua
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 3:14
  • Hello cpast! I recently learned about a case where the jury's decision was overturned by a Federal district court judge. Here it is. Could it be that I misunderstand the scenario or else your answer perhaps can use an edit?
    – Firelord
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 8:20
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    @Firelord Like I said, a jury acquittal is absolute. That case involved a judge overturning a conviction, which in my third paragraph I pointed out that they are able to do.
    – cpast
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 8:22
  • I would like to add one note about civil cases: a federal judge in a civil case is not allowed to reexamine a jury verdict due to the 7th amendment. What this means in practice is if a side asked for a judgement in their favor prior to the jury verdict (and the judge denied) and then the jury found against them, that side can ask a judge to reexamine his previous ruling(this can result in a different verdict). If that same side did not ask for this, after the jury verdict is stated they cannot ask for a judgement to be made in their favor due to the 7th amendment's restrictions.
    – Viktor
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 4:28
  • Mark below touches on this.
    – Viktor
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 4:29

In the United States, this is known as judgement notwithstanding the verdict. According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the judge in a civil trial can override any decision by the jury if they find that no reasonable jury would have reached that decision; for procedural reasons, there must have been a prior motion for judgment as a matter of law in order for the judge to do this.

Overruling a jury's verdict in a criminal case is more difficult because of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. In general, a verdict of "not guilty" cannot be overturned, while a verdict of "guilty" is overturned through procedures other than having the trial judge override the jury's decision.

  • What if all the jurors were bullied into an acquittal by threats (to them or their families or some other means) in a criminal case? Is there a fail safe for that? Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 8:34
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    @red_devil226, in that case, there'd be a second trial. It's well-established (but with very, very few actual examples) that if the first trial was a sham due to tampering with the judge or jury, an acquittal doesn't count against "double jeopardy" provisions because the defendant was never in jeopardy in the first place.
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 9:35

A judge cannot overrule a decision by a jury that came about in a legal way. That is, the law basically protects juries against the consequences of their decisions.

The judge can intervene in the jury process if there was something tainted. For instance, if a third party had tried to bribe one or more jurors, or some juror claimed that they were tricked or bullied into casting the "twelfth" vote.

  • The jury cannot get in trouble for their verdict, but the verdict does not need to be upheld by the court. Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 15:20

One side of this commonly falls under the term , wherein juries disregard the law and (usually) a judge's instructions in rendering their verdict.

On the other side, my understanding is that judges can pretty much do whatever they want. If they don't like what a trial jury does they can declare a mistrial; if they don't like a guilty verdict they can simply overturn it; and if they don't like a sentence, they can just change it. In practice the only thing that checks a judge's power in the courtroom is being overruled by higher courts.

Clarification: One thing a judge cannot do is declare a mistrial after a jury has delivered a verdict of innocence: that would violate the clear constitutional prohibition of double jeopardy.

  • So after a jury nullification a judge can just say mistrial? Wow
    – hellyale
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 22:27
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    Such is my understanding. There must be some famous examples of this in the case law. Fortunately, however, it seems that there is enough respect for the justice system (or awareness of the likelihood of such a decision being overturned) within the judiciary that this doesn't happen often. BTW, this is for criminal trials. On the civil side judges overruling juries happens often enough that there is a term for it: JNOV.
    – feetwet
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 22:31
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    @feetwet Source for that after verdict? Everything I see says that must be before a verdict.
    – cpast
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 22:33
  • @cpast: Right, in the case of a jury declaring innocence the charge cannot be retried. As for the other scenario -- jury declares guilt, and judge overturns that -- I know I've seen it but not sure if I can find a case. And, of course, we see judges tinkering with jury sentencing all the time. Just amended answer to reflect this.
    – feetwet
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 22:39
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    How exactly would a judge be able to tell if an innocent verdict is a result of jury nullification or not? (or how else would a jury return a result of jury nullification?) Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 15:13

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