Q&A: Ask the Judge

Can a judge be called for jury duty?

Absolutely! Judges are not excluded from jury service under that law; however, the odds of being selected are quite slim.  Most litigants do not want a judge on their jury. In all likelihood, if selected, the other jurors would look to the judge as a leader who would have influence on the outcome.  If the litigants wanted a judge to determine the outcome, they would not have elected to have a jury trial to begin with.

Is there anything a Judge can or should do if he or she feels like the jury made the wrong decision?

It is important to remember that trials to a jury verdict are a cornerstone of our judicial system. When parties to litigation elect to have a jury serve as the ultimate finders of fact, their verdict should not be disturbed unless provided for by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and Texas Rules of Criminal Procedure. If the jury’s verdict is contrary to the evidence in a civil case, the civil rules allow the judge can grant a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (commonly referred to as a JNOV) upon a written motion of the moving party.  The JNOV effectively changes the outcome in favor of the moving party. The judge should grant a motion for JNOV if there is no evidence to support the jury’s finding or if an issue is contrary to a finding established as a matter of law. In a criminal case, the rules do not provide the same authority, but rather allow the judge to grant a new trial based on insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction upon motion of the defendant.

Do you ever watch judge shows on TV? Are those judges actually good?

I haven’t watched any “legal” shows in years. When Court TV began on cable TV in the 1990s I would watch it for hours. Those were real cases, they were interesting. The “judges” on TV seem to say things they think viewers want to hear and have little to do with the law.

If it’s truly an accident, is it unjust to send someone to prison for it?

I think the word accident can mean different things to different people.  The question would be whether or not something is truly accidental or whether the outcome is a result of an intentional, knowing or reckless act. Under the law, for conduct to be criminal, an action must be either intentional, done with knowledge that a particular outcome could result, or with recklessness. These culpable mental states are elements that must be proven at trial before guilt can be established and a prison sentence assessed. Many offenses require an intentional act while others establish a lower threshold of knowing or reckless. Remember, the burden is on the prosecution to establish the defendant’s mental state beyond a reasonable doubt. If the judge or jury finds that the mental state is proven and the offense is punishable by confinement in prison, a prison sentence is within the discretion of the fact-finder, the judge or the jury.

The Honorable Judge Donna King was appointed and later elected to serve in Texas’ 26th District Court. Send your “Ask the Judge” questions to info@fpgtx.com

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