What is an Allen (or "dynamite") charge?
When jurors cannot agree on a verdict and report this to a judge, the judge may issue further instruction to them to encourage those in the minority to reconsider their position. These instructions are known as an Allen charge or, more casually, as a dynamite charge.
The Allen charge is named for the United States Supreme Court case Allen v. United States (1896) in which the Court approved such instructions in federal cases.
Critics of the Allen charge have described it among other ways as:
- "laden with deception" and "meant to browbeat the jury into submission"
- "a subtle means of jury 'coercion'"
- imposing an "explicit or implicit deadline" that "can impede quality decision-making and encourage jurors to give in to the social pressure of the majority"
The ruling is not binding on the states, and it is still a matter of significant controversy. Consequently, some states have banned such charges to the jury. In some states, however, similar jury instructions are used. They may be named for key cases decided in their state courts.
While they may sound quite forceful, intimidating, or even strongly imply that a juror must or should change their verdict, Allen charges do not require jurors to change their votes or reach a verdict. If you conscientiously believe your vote is just, you should NOT change it for the sake of delivering a verdict.
If jurors remain undecided on a verdict, additional Allen charges may be issued to the jury. However, if repeated Allen charges fail to bring a hung jury to consensus, the judge will eventually declare a mistrial.
Formal wording of the instructions varies depending on which court is issuing them. As an example, the model Allen charge used in the Fifth Circuit in criminal cases says:
Members of the Jury:
I am going to ask that you continue your deliberations in an effort to agree upon a verdict and dispose of this case; and I have a few additional comments I would like for you to consider as you do so.
This is an important case. If you should fail to agree on a verdict, the case is left open and may be tried again.
Any future jury must be selected in the same manner and from the same source as you were chosen, and there is no reason to believe that the case could ever be submitted to twelve men and women more conscientious, more impartial, or more competent to decide it, or that more or clearer evidence could be produced.
Those of you who believe that the government has proved the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt should stop and ask yourselves if the evidence is really convincing enough, given that other members of the jury are not convinced. And those of you who believe that the government has not proved the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt should stop and ask yourselves if the doubt you have is a reasonable one, given that other members of the jury do not share your doubt.
Remember at all times that no juror is expected to yield a conscientious opinion he or she may have as to the weight or effect of the evidence. But remember also that, after full deliberation and consideration of the evidence in the case, it is your duty to agree upon a verdict if you can do so without surrendering your conscientious opinion. You must also remember that if the evidence in the case fails to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused should have your unanimous verdict of Not Guilty.
You may be as leisurely in your deliberations as the occasion may require and should take all the time which you may feel is necessary.
I will ask now that you retire once again and continue your deliberations with these additional comments in mind to be applied, of course, in conjunction with all of the instructions I have previously given to you.
Reference: Pattern Jury Instructions (Criminal Cases), prepared by the Committee on Pattern Jury Instructions, District Judges Association, Fifth Circuit, 2015 Edition