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Defining a hung jury

On Behalf of | Jul 19, 2019 | Criminal Defense |

For those that contest the criminal charges against them, a trial may be the most important element of their cases. During these proceedings, they are allowed to both dispute any evidence that prosecutors present against them and offer up their explanation of events. The ultimate aim of their efforts is to convince those jurors hearing their cases of their innocence. A typical criminal trial will have 12 jurors, which implies that a defendant needs to convince 12 separate people of the validity of their claims. Yet that is often not the case. 

West Virginia’s Criminal Jury Instructions reveals that criminal cases require a unanimity for a verdict. When counseling jurors regarding this, the state says “each and every one of you must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty as charged in the indictment before you can find him guilty. If each of you is not so convinced, you must find the defendant not guilty.” Furthermore, the state’s instructions go on to say “(n)o juror, however, should surrender his or her opinion simply because other jurors are of a different opinion and no juror entertaining a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant should join in a verdict of guilty.” 

Disagreements among jury members often lead to hung juries. Per the Cornell Law School, a hung jury occurs when a jury cannot come to a verdict by the required voting margin (which, as was established earlier, is a unanimous decision). While juries are encouraged to share opinions and review matters as long as is needed to come a consensus, a hung jury indicates a belief that no amount of further discussion will sway opinion. Yet a hung jury is not the equivalent of an acquittal; in many instances, the case will simply be re-tried.