What is a verdict form?

A verdict form is what is submitted to the jury to fill out after they have completed deliberations and reached a verdict. A verdict form tries to make the process of completing the verdict very simple for the jury. In a criminal case, for each charge there is simply a box to check “guilty” or “not guilty”. After the landmark case of Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) 530 U.S. 466, a criminal jury must now also find true any enhancement used to increase a convicted person’s sentence. Therefore, for those enhancements, a box with the enhancement listed will have a place for the jury to find “True” or “Not true”. The rule of Apprendi is also codified in the Penal Code. “All enhancements shall be alleged in the accusatory pleading and either admitted by the defendant in open court or found to be true by the trier of fact.” (Pen. Code, § 1170.1, subd. (e).)

In a civil case, the verdict form tends to be more complicated than in a criminal case because the jury is usually tasked with answering more questions. In a personal injury case, for example, the jury would answer whether the Defendant was negligent, whether that negligence was a substantial factor in causing harm to the Plaintiff, the amount that would reasonably compensate Plaintiff for his injuries (including past lost earnings, future lost earnings, future medical expenses, past non-economic damages, future non-economic damages), and whether Plaintiff was comparatively negligent.

Lots of issues can ensue should a jury not fill out the verdict form correctly or do so inconsistently. Juries are presumed to follow the court’s instructions. (Richardson v. Marsh (1987) 481 U.S. 200, 2010.) Lesser-included offense convictions are reversed by operation of law. (People v. Moran (1970) 1 Cal.3d 755, 763.) It is axiomatic that acquittal on a lesser-included offense would render any conviction on a greater offense a legal impossibility. (cf. People v. Aranda (2019) 6 Cal.5th 1077, 1083 [upholding Stone v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal.3d 503, 519 procedure for charged/lesser-included offense verdict forms].) Accordingly, your lawyer should explain to the jurors how to fill out the verdict form in closing argument to mitigate against these issues.