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Are Hung Juries a Problem?

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2002
114 pages
This study examined the rate and causes of hung juries, as well as some ways to reduce the number of hung juries.
The report on the study is preceded by a literature review that provides a comprehensive update of the existing literature related to jury deadlock. The study itself used three methodologies. First, the project team conducted a broad-based survey of Federal and State courts to document hung jury rates. Second, the project team selected 4 courts for an in-depth jurisdictional study of nearly 400 felony trials. Using surveys of judges, attorneys, and jurors, the project team examined case characteristics, interpersonal dynamics during jury deliberations, and juror demographics and attitudes. These variables were compared for cases in which the jury reached a verdict and cases in which the jury deadlocked on one or more charges. The third research methodology was a case study of 46 deadlocked cases from the in-depth jurisdictional study, so as to develop a taxonomy of reasons for jury deadlock. An analysis of State court data found that the average hung jury rate was 6.2 percent, but with significant variations among jurisdictions. Neither demographic compositions of the populations nor community characteristics as crime rates were related to hung jury rates. The Federal hung jury rates in the 14 Federal circuits were much more uniform and lower than in State courts, averaging 2.5 percent for criminal trials from 1980 through 1997. Multiple approaches were used to explore the data to determine what differentiates a hung jury from one that reaches a verdict. Consistent themes of weak evidence, problematic deliberations, and jurors' perceptions of unfairness were present in hung juries. Although a hung jury may be an appropriate outcome when the evidence evenly supports the prosecution and defense, better pretrial decisions and trial preparation can reduce the rate of hung juries. If juries hang due to weak evidence, prosecutors should reassess charging policies and decisions regarding which cases are brought to trial. Specifically, prosecutors should assess the degree to which publicity about police misconduct has damaged police credibility in jury trials and be prepared to offer corroborating evidence in trials that rely heavily on police testimony. Efforts to provide jurors with tools to comprehend the evidence and process information more effectively may also reduce the incidence of juror confusion and resulting deadlock. These tools can include paper on which to take notes, notebooks with relevant case information, and clear copies of jury instructions. Hung juries reported that their cases were more complex; jurors' assessment of complexity was lower when jurors were allowed to submit questions to witnesses. Judicial guidance on how a jury should deliberate can also help prevent a hung jury. 32 tables, 5 figures, and appended case data survey, judge questionnaire, attorney questionnaire, and juror questions and questionnaire

Date Published: September 1, 2002