CHAPTER 12: OUTLINE OF A TRIAL - Table of Contents
12.1 - Introduction • 12.2 - Pretrial Matters • 12.3 - Jury Selection • 12.4 - Opening Statement • 12.5 - Prosecution Case-in-Chief • 12.6 - Motion For Judgment of Acquittal/Directed Verdict • 12.7 - Defense Case-in-Chief • 12.8 - Rebuttal and Surrebuttal • 12.9 - Witness Examination • 12.10 - Jury Instructions • 12.11 - Closing Argument • 12.12 - Jury Deliberations • 12.13 - Motions For Mistrial • 12.14 - Miscellaneous Issues
12.6 MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL/DIRECTED VERDICT
MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL
A motion for judgment of acquittal requests a dismissal on the ground that the evidence introduced at trial is not sufficient to convict the accused of the crime charged. If the motion is granted, the defendant is acquitted of the charge. Ordinarily, double jeopardy bars re-prosecution even if the trial court erred in granting the motion.
A motion for judgment of acquittal is presented by defense counsel at the close of the prosecution's case. When a trial judge is considering a defense motion for judgment of acquittal, the judge must look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, and must draw every reasonably inference from the evidence in favor of the prosecution. Viewing the evidence in this fashion, the trial court decides whether a reasonable person could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt from the evidence that the defendant is guilty. If so, the trial court will deny the motion. On the other hand, if the evidence is such that reasonable jurors must necessarily have a reasonable doubt, the judge must direct an acquittal, because no other result is permissible within the scope of the jury's function. This standard is such that it is rare for a trial court to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal.
A trial court may reject a witness's testimony and grant a motion for judgment of acquittal only when the witness's testimony is palpably incredible and totally unbelievable.
The motion for judgment of acquittal by defense counsel should be renewed at the close of all the evidence. The trial court uses the same standard just described to rule on the motion. The court may reserve a decision on the motion when made at the close of all the evidence, and wait for the jury's verdict before ruling, but this is unusual. The motion may also be renewed within ten days after the jury is discharged, whether or not such a motion is made prior to submission of the case to the jury. Failure to properly present the motion will foreclose appeal based on the sufficiency of the evidence introduced at the trial.
In a trial to the court, the judge has considerably more leeway in granting a motion for judgment of acquittal, at either the close of the prosecution case-in-chief or the close of all of the evidence. The reason is that the trial court is also the jury, so if a reasonable doubt exists in the mind of the trial court, the trial court should simply acquit rather than requiring the parties to proceed.
MOTION FOR DIRECTED VERDICT
In civil cases, the counterpart to the motion for a judgment of acquittal is a motion for a directed verdict. This motion is made at the conclusion of the plaintiff's case-in-chief, pursuant to C.R.C.P. 50. A judge hearing a motion for a directed verdict should look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, when deciding whether the plaintiff has presented enough evidence that a jury could conclude that the plaintiff has proved the elements of its claim.
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