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Are Hung Juries a Problem? Executive Summary

NCJ Number
199372
Date Published
Author(s)
Paula L. Hannaford-Agor J.D., Valerie P. Hans Ph.D., Nicole L. Mott Ph.D., G. Thomas Munsterman M.S.E
Agencies
NIJ-Sponsored
Annotation
This study examined the rate, causes, and some ways to reduce the number of hung juries.
Abstract
The study 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 trails. 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 such 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. 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. Judicial guidance on how a jury should deliberate can also help prevent a hung jury. 7 notes
Date Created: November 23, 2008