A Hung Jury: What Does It Mean And What Happens?

Last Updated on September 1, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

In many court systems all over the world, a jury will make decisions on the outcome of criminal and civil cases. Most of the time, a jury consists of between nine and thirteen people that are randomly selected. 

Some court rules dictate that the jury ruling can be a majority vote, and this usually happens in the United Kingdom and Canada. However, in some places, such as the US, there needs to be a unanimous verdict among the jury. 

A Hung Jury What Does It Mean And What Happens

But, what happens when the jury cannot meet the requirements of the court? In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about a hung jury, what this means, and what happens. So, if this is of interest to you, read on for more! 

What Is The Difference Between A Majority And Unanimous Decision?

A majority decision means that not everyone in the jury needs to agree on the outcome of the case, and the verdict will be decided by the majority.

In some places, such as the United Kingdom, the majority is a set number, such as 10 out of 12, meaning 10 jurors need to agree on the verdict for it to be considered. 

On the other hand, a unanimous decision means everyone on the jury needs to agree on the verdict. 

What Is A Hung Jury?

In every criminal trial and the majority of civil trials, the jury verdict should be unanimous. So, even if one juror does not agree with the others, then this means the requirements of the court cannot be met. This is known as a hung jury. 

When this happens in the court, it means that the jurors have deliberated the case, looked at all of the evidence (see also ‘Class Evidence: Everything You Need To Know‘) for days or weeks, but they cannot reach a verdict. 

In one-third of the states, civil cases can be decided by a jurors’ majority vote. However, The Federal Rules Of Criminal Procedure Rule 31(a) states that when it comes to a criminal trial, then all jurors need to agree on the guilt or innocence of the defendant. 

When the United States first existed as a nation, the founders and framers had clear memories of the abuse that happened in the British courts.

So, they decided that the burden of proof needed to be placed on the prosecution, and therefore the defendant would be considered to be innocent, while the prosecution had to prove them guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. 

So, the reason that unanimous verdicts are required is to ensure that someone who is innocent cannot be convicted unjustly and wrongly. However, it is important to note that that can and does happen occasionally.

What Causes A Hung Jury?

A hung jury can be caused by many things. Let’s check out some of the reasons why there would be a hung jury! 

Failure Of Attorneys To Produce Conclusive Legal Argument 

This usually happens when one side of the court, (known as either the prosecution in a criminal trial, the plaintiff’s counsel in a civil trial), or the other, (known as the defense in both criminal and civil trials) fails to give a strong or conclusive argument.

Consequently, the information given to the jurors is not enough for them to come up with a verdict. Legally, it is said that the jury is “deadlocked” in these situations. 

Typically, a hung jury happens when the jurors have disagreements about whether the plaintiff’s counsel or the prosecution has proved the preponderance of the evidence or that they have proved the guilt of the defendant beyond reasonable doubt. 

Different Backgrounds And Perspectives Of Jury Members

Additionally, disagreements can also happen when jurors interpret the evidence in different ways. Sometimes, different backgrounds, perspectives, and even personality traits can contribute to how a juror views the case and views justice.

 One juror can think very differently from another juror about the defendant, which will make it more difficult to decide on a guilty or innocent verdict and the specifics of any punishment they may need to decide. 

A Sequestered Jury

Sometimes, especially in cases that are very high-profile, the jurors need to be sequestered. This means that the case is very controversial and the court needs to ensure that the defendant will get an impartial and fair trial.

Since this is difficult to do with high-profile cases, the jurors will be placed in a hotel for the duration of the trial, they are not permitted to discuss the case with their family, friends, or the media. 

At this time, jurors cannot watch the news, and they must also avoid social media, the internet, and newspapers. 

Of course, this makes many members of the jury very impatient, which can affect how to approach the trial and will sometimes result in a hung jury. 

A Hung Jury What Does It Mean And What Happens

What Happens When There Is A Hung Jury?

A hung jury is not a very desirable outcome for court cases. It can be a significant issue for everyone involved.

However, there are ways that a hung jury can be dealt with! One of the best ways to do this is by taking preventative measures to ensure that a hung jury cannot happen. 

During the selection process, both the prosecution and the defense will be able to interview potential jurors.

Attorneys on both sides will be able to come to an agreement on the final members of the jury, taking care to ensure that it is representative of society and will be impartial and fair. 

When it comes to high-profile cases, this can be difficult because the case is very well known and is subject to what is known as “the court of public opinion”, which means that the public already has an opinion on the situation at hand, which can influence the media and the jury. 

To try and avoid this, high-profile cases are typically moved to a new jurisdiction or venue where the case is not known as well. 

What Can A Judge Do If There Is A Hung Jury?

If there is a hung jury, then the judge does have some influence, known as an Allen charge. They are able to admonish the jurors in the minority of the hung jury to reconsider their case and come to the same conclusion as their peers.

The judge will remind the jurors of how important it is to come to a conclusion during this trial and to consider the effort and time it has taken to come this far. 

Sometimes, the judge will permit another hearing to take place which allows jurors to ask questions to both parties. 

What Happens If No Unanimity Can Be Reached?

If there is still no solution to the trial, then a “mistrial” must be declared by the court. Mistrials are very serious and typically mean that there was a technical or procedural error that has made it impossible for the jury to resolve the case. 

After the declaration of a mistrial from the judge, the prosecution has the opportunity to either dismiss the charges against the defendant or begin a plea bargain. If neither of these happens, then the defendant will be tried again for the same charges on a totally different date. 

Because of this, both the prosecution and defense (or their civil case equivalents) must start again, which uses up a lot of resources and time. 

Final Thoughts

A hung jury happens when the jury cannot agree on a verdict. It typically means that the jury have looked at the evidence and transcriptions, deliberated for days and sometimes even weeks, and still cannot come to a conclusion. Hung juries are inconvenient for all those involved.

A hung jury can happen for many reasons. Usually, it is because the prosecution or defense attorneys have not argued their case very well or presented strong enough evidence. Additionally, jurors are supposed to represent a cross-section of society.

Therefore, it will sometimes be inevitable that they will view the case before them differently, due to their different backgrounds and perspectives. 

Finally, a hung jury can happen in high-profile cases because of a sequestered jury. This means that jury members have been put up in a hotel and instructed to avoid social media and the news. This can cause them to feel frustrated which can affect the way they approach the case. 

If a judge cannot encourage the jury to come to a verdict, then the result will be a mistrial, and the charges may be dropped or the trial may take place again at another time and place.