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Understanding the Legal Term Hung Jury With Simple Examples

Understanding the Legal Term Hung Jury with Examples
Though a jury trial is sometimes preferred to a bench trial, a hung jury is a waste of time and resources. Here is a brief overview of the various aspects of a hung jury, a legal term that denotes a jury that fails to reach a verdict.
Sonia Nair
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
According to a study conducted by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the average hung jury rate across 30 state courts in the United States, from 1996 to 1998, was 6% for felony criminal trials.
Jury trials are very common in some countries like the United States, where both civil and criminal cases can be tried before a jury. In fact, trial by jury is a constitutional right in the United States. So every person who is accused of a crime that is punishable with imprisonment of six months or more, is entitled to the right of trial by jury. According to the Seventh Amendment, the right to jury trial can be availed in civil cases too.

In a bench trial, the case is heard before a single judge or a bench of judges. In case of a jury trial, the case is heard before a panel of people appointed for hearing the case, and they come up with the verdict. A jury always works with a judge. While the judge decides on matters of law, the jury is responsible for matters of fact. A jury trial is often preferred for an unbiased judgment. However, jury trials have some disadvantages like a deadlocked jury or hung jury.
What Does a Hung Jury Mean?
Once it is decided that the case is to be tried before a jury, the next procedure is the selection of jurors. In most cases, the jury consists of 10 to 12 members; but in some states, even a six-member jury is allowed, especially in civil cases. The jurors take oath and hear the case. After analyzing the evidence, the jurors deliberate and issue the verdict. In most states, the jury verdict must be unanimous for criminal cases. In other words, all members of the jury must agree to the verdict. In case of disagreement, the jury is considered 'hung', thereby leading to a mistrial. So a hung jury results when the jurors fail to reach a unanimous decision regarding the verdict.
Man doing murder using gun
Example 1: The defendant has been charged with three counts; possession of gun for unlawful purposes, murder, and resisting arrest. The jury found him guilty for two charges, but failed to deliver a unanimous verdict on the murder charge. The jury has 12 members, but only eight jurors found the defendant guilty of murder. This case ends in a mistrial due to disagreement of the jurors regarding the charge of murder. The new trial covers the murder charge only.
Man arrested by police
Example 2: Three men were charged with arson and robbery. The jury found two of them guilty of the charges. However, the jurors could not come up with a unanimous decision regarding the charges against the third person. This situation also leads to a hung jury.
According to statistics, instances of hung juries increase with the number of counts and the number of parties to the case. It has also been observed that hung juries are more common in certain types of crimes, like murder. The more complex the case, the greater the chances of a hung jury.
What Happens When There is a Hung Jury?
Dynamite Charge
Lawyer addressing jury
When the jurors fail to agree on the verdict, the judge may interfere and discuss with the jurors, and ask the dissenting members to reconsider their decision. This provision that is intended to prevent a hung jury is termed as dynamite charge or Allen charge (the provision was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in Allen v. United States).
Judge giving judgment
In case of a hung jury, the judge will declare mistrial, and the case may be tried again, before a new jury. This can be avoided, if the parties settle the case or if the prosecution dismisses the charges. Another possibility is a plea bargain, where the defendant has to plead guilty for some concession from the side of the prosecution.
Federal and State Courts
When it comes to federal courts, the verdict of the jury must be unanimous in both civil and criminal cases. Laws regarding unanimity of jury verdicts may vary from one state to another. In most states, unanimous verdict is mandatory for jury trails in criminal cases. However, there are two exceptions - Oregon and Louisiana, where a majority of 10 out of 12 is required. In case of capital crimes, 11 out of 12 votes are required in Oregon, but in Louisiana, unanimous decision is needed. In civil cases, most of the state courts need a majority for accepting a jury verdict. However, this may vary with the nature of individual cases.
Mistrial and Double Jeopardy
Double jeopardy is a constitutional clause that offers protection to defendants from being tried or punished more than once for the same act. However, the clause of double jeopardy is not applicable in cases, where the jury fails to come up with a verdict. If the jury finds the defendant guilty for certain counts and is hung on other counts, he/she can be retried for charges on which a verdict was not reached.
So, a hung jury is a legal term that is used to denote a jury that fails to issue a verdict. The definition of the term may vary from one jurisdiction to another. In some regions, a jury is considered hung, when it fails to decide on all counts against all defendants, whereas in others, the term denotes the failure of the jury to decide on any charge or any defendant. However, a hung jury does not mean that the defendant is guilty or not guilty. This leads to a mistrial, which in turn may result in a retrial.