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JUDGMENTS


Criminal Law & Procedure: Verdicts


A judgment is a declaration by a trial court that shows whether a defendant has been convicted or acquitted of a criminal offense. The judgment must be in writing and must be signed by the trial court. The judgment is only evidence of the defendant's conviction. It is not the defendant's conviction. The defendant is convicted when the trial court pronounces the defendant's sentence. An appeal of the defendant's conviction cannot be filed until the judgment has been entered on the record.


If a defendant's case was heard by a jury, a judgment is entered after the jury's verdict is received and accepted by a trial court and after the trial court pronounces the defendant's sentence.


If the defendant was tried at a bench trial, the judgment is entered when the trial court pronounces the defendant's sentence.


A judgment must contain certain matters in accordance with each state's statutes. Such matters include:


(1) title and number of the case;


(2) the names of the prosecutor, the defendant, and the defendant's counsel;


(3) the defendant's plea;


(4) whether there was a jury trial or a bench trial;


(5) whether evidence was submitted;


(6) the verdict of a jury or the finding of a trial court;


(7) whether the defendant was found guilty of an offense;


(8) whether the defendant was acquitted;


(9) the exact offense of which the defendant was convicted;


(10) the degree of the offense; and


(11) the terms of the defendant's sentence.


If the defendant is ordered to pay fines or restitution, the judgment must set forth the amount and the terms of the fines or the restitution. If the defendant is ordered to pay costs, the judgment must set forth the amount and the terms of the costs.


If a judgment does not contain all the matters that are required by statute, the judgment is invalid. Only a valid judgment can be corrected on appeal. If the judgment is invalid, the judgment will be declared void on appeal.


In some states, a judgment is required to reflect a defendant's use or exhibition of a deadly weapon during his or her commission of an offense. The reason for this requirement is that the use or exhibition of a deadly weapon will affect the defendant's eligibility for alternative sentencing or parole. However, the defendant must have been given notice that the prosecution would seek a finding on his or her use of a deadly weapon and a jury or a trial court must make an affirmative finding as to the defendant's use of a deadly weapon.


In some states, a judgment is required to reflect whether a defendant's offense was a hate crime. A hate crime is defined as the defendant's intentional selection of a victim on the basis of the defendant's bias or prejudice against the victim as a result of the victim's race, color, disability, religious, national origin, age, gender, or sexual preference. In those states, the hate crime finding is used for enhancement of punishment. However, a judge or a jury must make an affirmative finding with regard to the hate crime, which finding must be included in the judgment.


When a defendant is found guilty of an offense, a trial court usually pronounces the defendant's sentence immediately after it accepts a jury's verdict or after it finds the defendant guilty. The trial court then enters a judgment against the defendant. Under some circumstances, the trial court may defer sentencing and entry of the judgment. In those circumstances, the trial court usually orders pre-sentence reports and takes testimony at the time of sentencing.


A judgment may be prepared by a trial court, by a prosecutor, or by a defense attorney. Matters that are contained in the judgment are binding on a defendant. If there is a conflict between the judgment and a trial court's docket, the judgment is controlling, If there is a conflict between the written judgment and the trial court's oral pronouncements, the written judgment controls.


Copyright 2007 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.




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