Differences Between a Verdict and a Judgment

By Cara O'Neill
The jury is a fundamental part of the legal system.

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One easy rule of thumb when it comes to understanding the differences between verdicts and judgments is to remember that a jury’s decision is a verdict, whereas a judge renders a judgment. However, it does not stop there because there are many different types of judgments that a judge can make -- and even if you get a verdict or judgment, if the court clerk does not enter it, it has no binding effect whatsoever. It is as though it never happened.

Civil Case versus Criminal Case

In a civil case, an individual or business asks for money to compensate for harm caused by the defendant. Examples of civil cases include motor vehicle accidents and contract disputes. In a criminal case, however, a representative of the government, such as a district attorney or attorney general, seeks jail or prison time to punish an alleged criminal. Murder, driving under the influence of alcohol and certain types of fraud are examples of criminal cases.

Jury Trial versus Court Trial

In both civil and criminal cases, the defendant has the right to choose between a jury and a court trial. In a jury trial, a panel of jurors listens to the evidence and decides the fate of the defendant. The jury’s decision is called a verdict. In contrast, in a court trial, the judge listens to the evidence and renders a judgment.

Types of Judgments

A judge can make several different types of judgments during the course of a lawsuit and each has its own name. For example, if someone does not respond to a lawsuit and the suing party wins by default, the court’s judgment is called a default judgment. If the parties ask the judge to determine the contractual responsibilities of the parties, the court’s determination is called a declaratory judgment. If the judge reviews all the evidence in motion form, and determines that there really is not a dispute that needs deciding, the judge grants a summary judgment. There are more types of judgments, but in most cases, the judge does not issue one of these judgments unless asked to do so by one of the parties.

Entry of a Verdict or Judgment

For a verdict or judgment to become final, it is not enough for a jury to inform the court of its verdict, or even for a judge to render a decision. Neither have any weight until the court clerk enters the verdict or judgment into the court record.

About the Author

An attorney for more than 20 years, Cara O'Neill currently practices in the areas of civil litigation, family law and bankruptcy. She also served as an Administrative Law Judge and taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of employment law, business law and criminal law for a well-known university. Attending the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, she graduated a National member of the Order of the Barristers - an honor society recognizing excellence in courtroom advocacy. She is currently licensed in the state of California.