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What Juries Look for to Decide a Verdict in a Murder Case

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ. | Dec 18, 2019

What do Juries Look for in Determining Guilt or Innocence in a California Penal Code 187 Murder Case?

As you might guess, when a jury deliberates whether somebody is guilty of a murder, they're going to look at the evidence.  They're going to look at what the prosecutors present.  Are there any eye-witnesses?  Is there any video evidence?  Is there any admissions by the defendant?  Is there any DNA evidence?  Is there any fingerprint evidence?

To give readers a better understanding of what exactly juries look for in order to determine whether a defendant is guilty or innocent in a murder case, our criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

Juries Seek Hard Evidence of Guilt

In my experience, and I've been doing this for over twenty-five years, they're looking for hard evidence.  Are there witnesses that are pointing at the defendant and saying yeah, that's the guy that shot the victim.  That's the guy that stabbed the victim.

Did the defendant admit that they did something?  Are there other co-conspirators or other co-defendants to the murder case that are saying something against the defendant?

So, they're going to look at hard evidence.  If it's just guess-work or speculation or fishing on the part of the prosecutors and they just think the person might be guilty, that's not going to be enough to get somebody convicted of a murder case.

Juries know in Los Angeles county in particular where I've tried a lot of murder cases, that it's not fair to convict somebody of a murder if they don't have good hard, solid evidence. This is especially true in a first-degree murder case.

So, what we're doing as a defense is, we're trying to show the jury here's what evidence you should have if this particular person is guilty of murder.  If they don't have that evidence there's a reason they don't have that evidence.

That reason is the person is not guilty of this particular murder case and the prosecutor can't prove all the elements of the crime.

One thing you also have to realize is each case spins on its own facts.  So, not in all cases is it relevant that there's witnesses or DNA evidence.  It all depends on the circumstances.

In some cases, the person admits that they killed the other party but they were defending themselves.  So, if there's no eye-witnesses to it and there's bad blood between the two parties and you can bring evidence that shows that they were defending themselves, that could be itself a complete defense to the murder case.

Motive, Witnesses, Fingerprints, Defendant's Statements

Other times, they find a body and the person is dead and they don't know who did it.  They going to try to see if your defendant has a motive to do it.  They're going to try and see if your defendant left any clues or evidence or fingerprints.  Or are there any witnesses that see the defendant there.

What Juries Look for to Decide a Verdict in a California Murder Case

Did your defendant talk to somebody about killing another party?  So, you can't just say the same thing in every murder case.

It depends on how the murder occurred, who the suspects are, whether or not it's clear or not that a particular defendant actually is the one that killed the other party, or whether the argument is they're not the one who killed the other party.

So, once you have all this information, then you can start talking about what a jury is going to be looking at and what evidence they're going to need to convict a person, and that's one of the big things that I do.

I sit down and meet with the client.  I go over their story and I love to have all the evidence at hand when I meet with the client.  I love to have looked at all the video evidence, have talked to the witnesses in the case, have seen the police reports, have talked to the prosecutor about their theory of the murder.

Then I go and sit down with the defendant and I say, okay here's what evidence they claim they have.  Here's what the prosecutor thinks happened.  You tell me.  What happened here?

Then I get the defendant's side of the story, and now once I have all that, I might have my investigator go do some investigation, talk to some witnesses and look at some of the evidence in the case and really evaluate it if that evidence is going to be crucial in proving the case.

Then I get together a list of pros and cons in the case.  Here's the stuff that's good for us.  Here's the stuff we're going to be able to show to the jury and here's what the problems are.

Here's what the prosecutors are going to show to the jury.  Then once you have that evidence, now you start to think to yourself, what evidence is going to be most important to a jury.  Sometimes there's going to be evidence that can go either way.  There's kind of a gray area, and that evidence we need to build-up in your favor.

Once we get all that laid out, now we're in a position to really evaluate the case and really get an idea of what we think a jury might do in this particular murder case and then we can decide whether it's a case we want to take to trial and risk getting a conviction in the murder case or whether it's a case that we should take to trial because we've got great evidence and because the client is saying that they're innocent and they did not do it.

Review Murder Case Strategy with a Criminal Layer

That's really how I break the tie in these murder cases when I'm evaluating what a jury might do.  I say yeah, the jury could go this way; the jury could go that way.  Maybe it's not clear what the jury's going to do.  Maybe the case could go either way.  How you break the tie is you ask your client.

If you had anything to do with this murder, if you believe that you did commit the murder and you do believe you did some of these bad things that the prosecutors are claiming you did, we should probably work out a deal.

You don't want to take a chance of going down when we might be able to get you something less than twenty-five to life or fifty-to life if you're convicted full-boat for this murder.

If on the other hand, you did not murder this person, you are not guilty of this murder and you believe that in your heart and you don't think you did anything wrong, then absolutely you should not take a deal.

We should move ahead full force, even there's a chance you could lose.  If you're innocent, you must move ahead.  You must defend yourself.  You must fight the case.  Let's get the evidence.  Let's get the witnesses.

Defendant Testimony in a Murder Case

You might have to testify as a criminal defendant in the case because a jury likes to see a defendant testify, in my experience in a murder case, because they want to hear what they have to say.

The key is whether or not that testimony is going to be beneficial to you, and whether if you do testify whether you can stand-up to cross-examination, and finally, how is a jury going to view your testimony.

Are they going to think that you're a solid credible witness or are they going to believe you're sneaky and some bad evidence came in against you?  These are the type of things we have to evaluate in a murder case in Los Angeles when we're considering fighting the case, taking it in front of the jury.

We've got to look at how the jury is going to react to some of this evidence, how well you're going to come off as a witness and what our real chances are of winning this case and getting a not-guilty verdict.

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

Ronald D. Hedding, Esq., is the founding member of the Hedding Law Firm. Mr. Hedding has an extensive well-rounded legal background in the area of Criminal Law. He has worked for the District Attorney's Office, a Superior Court Judge, and as the guiding force behind the Hedding Law Firm. His multi-faceted experience sets Mr. Hedding apart and puts him in an elite group of the best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Southern California.