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How Much Justice Hangs in the Balance? A New Look at Hung Jury Rates

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 83 Issue: 2 Dated: September-October 1999 Pages: 59-67
Date Published
9 pages

Hung juries are discussed with respect to what is known from existing empirical research and preliminary data about the contemporary incidence of hung juries in the Federal courts and several State courts.


Findings did not support the belief that hung jury rates in criminal cases are a widespread problem. The findings from Federal courts revealed a long-term pattern of hung jury rates for both civil and criminal cases that are well below the 5 percent rate reported by Kalven and Zeisel in the mid-1950's. The District of Columbia Circuit has a relatively high rate of hung juries, but that rate is based on relatively small raw numbers of hung juries. Moreover, that jurisdiction is unique among the Federal district courts for its extraordinarily urban and heterogeneous characteristics. State court data are difficult to interpret in the absence of uniform reporting criteria and a common definition of a hung jury. The data gathered thus far suggest that hung jury rates may be as much a function of jurisdictional characteristics as a product of jurors' attitudes and beliefs. Concerns about hung juries have prompted calls for reforms such as non-unanimous verdicts and removal of nullifying jurors, but the research so far suggests that other factors, including the nature of the jurisdiction and caseload management, are linked to hung jury rates. A complete analysis of both individual and contextual factors needs to be considered to obtain a complete picture of why juries hang. Further research will examine these factors. Figures, table, photographs, and footnotes

Date Published: January 1, 1999