What is a Motion for Directed Verdict in a Criminal Trial?

Posted by Mark Hauser

A Motion for a Directed Verdict (“Motion”) is asking the court (i.e., the judge) to issue a Directed Verdict in favor of the defense

This motion is made before a case is submitted to the jury, and argues that no reasonable jury could find for the opposing party (i.e., whatever evidence exists for such ruling is legally insufficient).  This Motion can be made for all charges or just some of the charges (usually the lead or most serious charges).  The defense is basically saying that the evidence does not satisfy the required elements of the charges and that if the jury applies the law properly there is no way that they could find the defendant guilty of the charges in question.  It is harder to win than a verdict at the end of the trial by the jury (or a judge if it is a waiver trial) because the standard is lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt” (the standard used at the end of the trial).

Why does the defense make this Motion even though it has less of a chance of winning than a verdict at the end of the trial?  Obviously, the first reason is that it costs the defense nothing since being denied this Motion has no affect on their chances at the end of the trial since the standard that was used was different.  A more subtle reason is just in case the defense puts on a case and evidence comes out that negatively affects the defense’s case.  This is rare, but it does happen.  The most common example is when the defendant takes the stand and:  1. they unintentionally bring in a fact not previously in evidence that negatively affects the defense’s case; or 2. they completely lack credibility on the stand.  Sometimes this can happen with alibi witness too.  Hence, by asking for a Motion for Directed Verdict the defense is in essence protecting itself in case their defense goes poorly and they end losing a case that they already had won before they put on a defense.

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