Must the jury agree on a verdict?
When asked on our online quiz whether the jury is required to agree on a verdict on every charge, more than 40% of respondents give the wrong answer. This is, by far, the question on our quiz that is most frequently answered incorrectly. So let's be clear:
Jurors are NOT required to deliver a verdict for all, some, or any charge at all that they are asked to consider.
When jurors report to the judge that they cannot agree in sufficient number to deliver a verdict, the jury is said to be “deadlocked” or a “hung jury”. Judges faced with this situation will exercise their discretion as to how to proceed.
Often, the first time a jury reports being deadlocked, the judge will issue further instructions and encourage them to continue deliberating. This instruction may be referred to as the “Allen charge” (taking its name from the Supreme Court case of Allen v. United States (1896) that permitted such instruction), a dynamite charge, or with other terminology. A model Allen charge can be read here.
Courts are not supposed to deliver such charges in a way that has a coercive effect on the jury. Nonetheless, our observations lead us to believe that there are, in fact, cases in which this is precisely the effect of such supplemental instructions.
Even if you are given an instruction when you serve on a jury that strongly implies or outright states that the jury is required to come to the necessary consensus to deliver a verdict, this is simply not true. As a juror, you should deliberate in good faith, but you should NOT change your verdict for the sake of compromise.
Likewise, you should not convict on some charges just to acknowledge that the prosecutor made some kind of effort. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove each and every charge beyond a reasonable doubt, each and every time. There is no partial credit for the prosecution!
Usually, a deadlocked jury is not sent back to deliberate further more than once or twice. If jurors cannot reach a consensus, at some point the judge will declare a mistrial. A mistrial is okay, and it is FAR better for the defendant than to be convicted.
The accused is entitled to the protection not merely of the collective average of the jurors’ judgments, but of each individual juror’s honest, independent judgment. A single juror (in most cases) has the power to save a life with just two words: Not Guilty.