Criminal Defense

What Is a Hung Jury?

A courtroom jury in a criminal trial has one duty over all: To listen to the evidence, sift through the facts and come to a unanimous conclusion. Often, though, a panel of jurors will reach an impasse, finding themselves unable to agree on the defendant’s guilt or innocence. Despite their most earnest attempts, the jury reaches a deadlock and is said to be hung.

In a case like this, what becomes of the trial itself? What happens to the defendant?

Any trial that ends in a hung jury is a waste of time and money for everyone concerned. That’s why judges will do their best to encourage the minority holdouts to re-examine the evidence, rethink their positions and reach some sort of consensus. Other courts, however, find this approach to be coercive in nature, and the judges in these venues will take care to instruct the jurors not to feel pressured into changing their opinions.

For the defendant, a deadlocked jury can amount to a blessing or a curse. Since the trial did not reach a definitive conclusion, a retrial is still possible, and it may end more favorably for him or her.

Some trials end with the jurors only partially hung: In other words, they may have reached an agreement on some of the charges but be hopelessly deadlocked on the rest. When this sort of thing takes place, the court may either convict or acquit the defendant on the agreed-upon verdicts, leaving him open to a retrial that will only consider the rest.

In any criminal case, the jury most come to a unanimous agreement on the defendant’s guilt or innocence. If they cannot, there are no halfway measures to protect the defendant or give him any break. Such defendants will always face the chance of going to trial a second trial on the original charges.

Why Double Jeopardy Fails to Apply

Through the concept of double jeopardy, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the law from retrying a defendant more than once for the same offense after a panel of jurors has either acquitted or convicted him. While double jeopardy does not apply in every case, it always plays a role in capital cases and juvenile delinquency proceedings as well as in those concerned with felonies and misdemeanors.

This double jeopardy protection attaches as soon as the judge has empaneled the jury, and it remains in place until the jury has reached a verdict of guilty or innocent. With a hung jury, however, this never happens. Because the trial has not come to a proper conclusion, the prosecution is free to try the defendant for the same crime again.

Nevertheless, although double jeopardy does provide protection against a retrial in criminal cases, it does not prevent the institution of civil proceedings against the defendant for the original crime.

The Benefits of the Hung-Jury Mistrial

A hung jury will never equate to an acquittal, but from the defendant’s point of view, it is far preferable to a conviction. It is true that a guilty defendant may have the option of mounting an appeal, but these are often costly, and many defendants are not in a financial position to do so. The hung jury, on the other hand, provides an often-welcome chance for a do-over, particularly in cases for which most jurors were leaning toward a verdict of guilty.

The hung jury can also benefit the legal teams on both sides of the equation, giving them the chance to review their strategies, learn from their mistakes, hone their arguments and build stronger cases in preparation for the next go-round.

The decision on whether to proceed to retrial is up to the prosecution. He or she may decline to do this, and in some cases, the judge may disallow it. Normally, however, the judge will permit the retrial to take place.

In most criminal retrials, the prosecution normally has the advantage. Some believe that the cost of the original trial may have already forced the defendant into an uncomfortable financial position, thereby constraining him to rely on the public defender’s assistance the second time around. This can make the option of settling rather than returning to court far more attractive, particularly when a plea bargain would allow the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge and face a lighter sentence.

Fighting Your Criminal Case

Not all criminal trials end in a hung jury, and as beneficial as they may sometimes be to the defendant, an acquittal is always preferable. If you or someone with whom you are close is facing criminal prosecution, don’t leave the outcome to chance. At Weiner Law Group, we fight for a finding of innocence every step of the way. Call now to discuss your case and see what our criminal defense attorneys can do for you.