What is a Hung Jury?

When watching a film or television show, you might hear the term hung jury and wonder what it means. During a jury trial, the prosecutor presents evidence and testimony from others to show that the accused individual is guilty. A defense attorney attempts to refute those claims. The members of the jury are then responsible for determining the person’s guilt or innocence and may decide on the punishment given to that criminal too. Understanding what the term hung means requires looking at how the deliberation process works.

Deliberation Process

Prior to appearing in court, a prosecutor must first gather enough evidence to show just cause for the trial. If the judge determines that there is not enough evidence in the case, he or she may dismiss the case and let the suspected criminal walk free. Both the prosecutor and defense attorney must select the jury who will sit in the courtroom and overhear the facts relating to the case. The jury will have time to deliberate and reach an agreement. In longer cases, the jury may spend one or more nights in a local hotel. If the jury cannot reach an agreement regarding that individual’s guilt or innocence, the case will end with a hung jury.

Allen Charge

Allen vs. United States was a major case overseen by the Supreme Court in 1896 that changed the way courts respond to jurors. An Allen charge allows a judge to give jurors more time to make a decision and to possibly change their minds. This is common in juries that feature a small number of people who do not agree with the majority. Those jurors will have the chance to ask any questions they have, talk with other jurors and examine the evidence again before deciding whether to change their minds.

What Happens Next?

Before a judge can sentence a criminal, the jury must agree to the guilt of that individual. According to the American Bar Association, if the jury cannot reach an agreement, the judge must declare a mistrial. The prosecutor then has the option of deciding whether to move forward and try the individual again or whether to drop the charges. Some prosecutors will use a mistrial as a way to gain more evidence or change the charges brought against the person. Double jeopardy only applies when an individual receives a conviction for a crime and does not apply to a mistrial.

Can Jurors Still Serve?

Once you serve on a jury, you should not receive a notice for jury duty for several months or longer. After serving on the jury of a trial that ended in a mistrial, the judge will thank you for your time and dismiss you. If the prosecutor files charges later that result in a new trial, you legally cannot serve. The prosecutor and defense may bring new arguments into the case and leave out evidence you heard in the past, which can taint the way you feel about the suspected criminal.

Juries are responsible for listening to the evidence presented by the prosecution and defense to determine if a suspected criminal is innocent or guilty. They must leave all personal thoughts and feelings out of the equation. If the jury cannot reach a majority decision, the judge will view that as a hung jury and declare a mistrial.

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