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Criminal Law & Procedure: Verdicts: Unanimity

A jury is required to render a unanimous verdict in a criminal trial. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict, the jury is considered to be a hung jury. A trial court must declare a mistrial in the event of a hung jury.

If a trial court receives a communication from a jury that it is deadlocked and that it cannot reach a unanimous verdict, the trial court should call the jury into the courtroom and inquire as to whether it can reach a verdict. The trial court is required to do more than merely asking the foreman of the jury as to the possibility of a verdict or merely asking the individual jurors if they are hopelessly deadlocked. The trial court should inquire as to whether the jury’s deliberations changed any of the jurors’ votes and whether further deliberations would result in a verdict.

A trial court has discretion to determine the length of time that a jury should be allowed to deliberate before the trial court declares a mistrial. The trial court usually bases its determination on the length of time that the jury has deliberated, the nature of a defendant’s case, and the evidence that was produced at the defendant’s trial. If a large amount of testimony was presented at the defendant’s trial, the trial court may extend the time for the jury’s deliberations.

A trial court should not inform a jury that it only has a certain time to render a verdict before the trial court will declare a mistrial. If the trial court communicates the time limit to the jury, the trial court may be deemed to be coercing the jury into rendering a verdict.

Although a trial court does not normally provide supplemental instructions to a jury after it has charged the jury, the trial court may provide additional instructions to a deadlocked jury. The additional instructions may explain the consequences of the jury’s failure to reach a verdict and the fact that a hung jury may result in another trial. This type of instruction is normally referred to an Allen charge or a dynamite charge. An Allen charge requests the jury to continue deliberating in order to reach a verdict. However, the trial court should not provide the additional instructions to the jury unless the jury requests the instructions from the trial court.

A trial court is not entitled to provide supplemental instructions to a jury if the supplemental instructions will have the effect of coercing jurors who do not agree with a majority of the jurors. The trial court should not target any specific jurors and should not instruct any jurors to reconsider their votes. The trial court should also not inquire as to how the jury voted.

If a jury trial results in a hung jury, a trial court must declare a mistrial. In the event of a mistrial, the prosecution has the discretion to determine whether it will seek a new trial. However, if the trial court abused its discretion by discharging the jury too soon, a defendant may not be retried for his or her offense because double jeopardy has attached.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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