Definitions

hung-jury

Hung jury

A hung jury is a jury that cannot agree upon a verdict after an extended period of deliberation and is deadlocked with irreconcilable differences of opinion.

In the United States, the result is a mistrial, and the case may be retried. Some jurisdictions permit the court to give the jury a so-called Allen charge, inviting the dissenting jurors to re-examine their opinions, as a last ditch effort to prevent the jury from hanging.

Juries in criminal cases are generally required to reach a unanimous verdict, while juries in civil cases typically have to reach some set level of majority consensus short of unanimity. In jurisdictions giving the litigants a choice of jury size (such as between a six-person and twelve-person jury), defense counsel in both civil and criminal cases frequently opt for the larger number of jurors. A hung jury is generally regarded as the next best thing to an acquittal, so the larger size of the jury increases the chances of dissension. A common axiom in criminal cases is that "it takes only one to hang," referring to the fact that, in some cases, a single juror can defeat the necessary unanimity.

One proposal for dealing with the difficulties associated with hung juries has been to introduce supermajority verdicts. This measure would allow juries to convict defendants without unanimous agreements amongst the jurors. Hence, a 12-member jury that would otherwise be deadlocked at 11 for conviction and 1 against, would be recorded as a guilty verdict for the defendant. The rationale for majority verdicts usually includes arguments involving so-called 'rogue jurors' who unreasonably impede the course of justice. Opponents of the introduction of majority verdicts argue that it undermines public confidence in criminal justice systems and results in a higher number of individuals convicted of crimes they did not commit.

In England and Wales a majority of 10-2 is needed for a verdict, failure to reach this may lead to a retrial.

In Scotland in criminal cases juries consist of 15, and 8 jurors are needed to arrive at a guilty verdict, even if the size of the jury drops below 15 e.g. because of illness. It is not possible to have a hung jury since if this number is not reached it is treated as an acquittal.

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