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Local Lawyer, Judge Shed Light on Au Pair Decision

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Evelyn Dove Coleman says it's the judge's responsibility to correct situations that may cause a breach of justice.
RALEIGH — Most of us have never had any first-hand dealings with the criminal justice system. It's hard to understand how and why a judge can overrule a jury's decision.

Our courts are based on system where we are judged by a jury of our peers. But ultimately, the judge is responsible for justice in the courtroom. Soin the rare instance when a judge believes the jury has made a mistake, heor she can step in.

That's exactly what happened Monday in Massachusetts. Although it rarelyhappens here, judges in North Carolina do have the same power to change averdict.

Louise Woodward was facing life in prison, now thanks to Judge HillerZobel she will be set free.

Former Wake County Judge Donald Overby never overturned a jury's decisionin his eight years on the bench. But he says if a judge has reservationsabout a jury's decision, he may review it.

"Those sorts of things are never undertaken lightly," Judge Overbyexplains. "It's just such a rarity that the judge would have to be fullyconvinced that the jury had not reached what he thought was an appropriatedecision."

Attorney Evelyn Dove Coleman was surprised by Zobel's ruling. She sayswhen Woodward's attorneys only allowed the jury to consider murder oracquittal and not manslaughter, it was obvious the judge was concerned.

"The judge's job is to see that justice is done," Coleman says, "and ifthere is something that is so overwhelming to the other extreme of whathas happened, that is the judge's job to make sure that is corrected."

Chances are you won't see it happening here, but the law does givejudges the right to step in.

There are all sorts of reasons why a judge may change verdict. But he orshe may only consider the law and the facts of the case, just as a jurywould do.

Just as a jury's decision may be repealed and reviewed, so may a judge's. And in this case the prosecution has already said it will appeal.

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