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Hung juries, Mistrials, Jury deadlock, Empirical legal studies, The American Jury


Applied Statistics | Evidence | Litigation


Reports of apparent increases in the number of hung juries in some jurisdictions have caused concern among policy makers. A 1995 report by the California District Attorneys Association cited hung jury rates in 1994 that exceeded 15 percent in some jurisdictions (the rates varied from 3 to 23 percent across the nine counties for which data were available). In 1996, the District of Columbia Superior Court reported a higher-than-expected hung jury rate of 11 percent. Why juries hang at these rates isn't clear, but some commentators have claimed that hung juries are the product of eccentric or nullifying holdout jurors and that reforms are in order.

Most commentary focuses rather narrowly on the supposed failings of individual jury members. Jury deadlock is blamed on jurors' inability to comprehend the evidence and the law, on their unwillingness to follow the law, and on their illegitimate refusal to reach a verdict. Policy makers have responded to the reports of a hung jury problem with proposals to implement such procedures as non-unanimous verdicts, disqualification of "nullifying jurors," and a host of less radical jury modifications.

Yet very little information about actual hung juries exists, and most of what does is based on 40-year-old data from the classic jury study by Kalven and Zeisel. This article discusses what is currently known about hung juries based on existing empirical research and examines some preliminary data about the contemporary incidence of hung juries in the federal courts and several state courts. The paucity of information on hung jury rates highlights the need for a rigorous and system-wide examination that extends beyond the scope of the jury itself and encompasses the institutional characteristics of each jurisdiction and how those characteristics affect the types of cases that are presented to juries.

Publication Citation

Published in: Judicature, vol. 83, no. 2 (September-October 1999).