What is an Allen Charge?

An Allen charge is a little known charge that judges can use when a jury is deadlocked after listening to a trial in a courtroom. When a case reaches the courtroom, the jury will listen to both sides and then spend some time debating the case with each other. Though most cases end with either a prosecution or an acquittal, the trial may end in a mistrial, which is when the jury cannot reach a conclusive agreement. Judges use this type of charge to reduce the risk of a mistrial happening.

History of the Charge

Allen vs. United States is a Supreme Court case from 1896. Allen was a convicted murderer who had his trial in Alabama. The case reached the Supreme Court after a deadlocked jury prevented the state from convicting Allen and sentencing him to prison. The case ended with the Supreme Court deciding that judges could give juries extra time to reach a decision. It essentially lets the majority of jurors in the case talk with the minority and make the minority understand why they should change their minds. Though the ruling only applies to federal cases, more than 20 states now have similar policies in place.

Courtroom Proceedings

Serving on a jury is a duty and a right for all American citizens. The local courthouse will send out jury duty notifications that let locals know when they need to serve. Those citizens will arrive at the courthouse, listen to the facts surrounding the case and go through the jury selection process. Those chosen for the jury will then spend a few hours or more in the courtroom. They listen to the defense and prosecution, examine all evidence and then move to a separate area of the courthouse to deliberate over the case.

Deadlocked Juries

Deciding on the fate of a criminal is the main focus of any jury. Members of the jury will have the chance to ask the judge questions relating to the case and to look over the evidence. Unless the majority of those serving on the jury can reach a definitive decision, the law views that jury as deadlocked. With an Allen charge, the judge overseeing the case will recommend that the jury deliberate for an extended period of time and ask the minority to rethink their decision. If they still cannot reach an agreement, it will result in a mistrial.

Benefits of the Charge

A mistrial can cost the justice system thousands of dollars or more. Using this charge to help the jury reach a conclusive decision helps save the system money and reduces the need for the prosecution to gather more evidence and try the case again in the future. According to the American Bar Association, these charges lead to more convictions that acquittals. Juries on criminal cases seldom change their minds and let a suspected criminal walk free, but they are more likely to convict those individuals, which makes this charge beneficial to prosecutors.

A deadlocked jury occurs when the members of the jury cannot settle on a conviction or an acquittal. Though the court can declare the case as a mistrial and let the prosecution decide whether to convict later, the judge may also call for an Allen charge and give the jury more time to deliberate the facts of the case.