verdict, in law, official decision of a jury respecting questions of fact that the judge has laid before it. In the United States, verdicts must be unanimous in federal courts, but majority verdicts are constitutionally permissible in state courts. The jury may be instructed to render a general verdict, a special verdict, or both. A general verdict requires the jury to decide whether the defendant is guilty (or liable, in civil cases). The jury's decision is theoretically based on whether it was convinced of the occurrence of all the facts necessary to substantiate a given violation of the criminal or civil law. A special verdict answers a specific question, e.g., did a deceased person die naturally or by violence? If the jury is required only to return a special verdict, the judge must himself decide whether the law was violated. In civil suits the judge may often modify or set aside verdicts. In criminal cases, however, a verdict of not guilty generally cannot be modified, and the accused must be discharged; the judge may in certain circumstances disregard a verdict of guilty. See jeopardy; sentence.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.