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Are Hung Juries A Problem? (Video)

NCJ Number
Paula L. Hannaford-Agor J.D.
Date Published
December 2002
0 pages
This presentation, part of the National Institute of Justice’s Research in Progress Seminars, provides preliminary results from a study about the frequency and causes of hung juries.
Paula Hannaford-Agor, Principle Court Research Consultant for the National Center for State Courts, presented her research on hung jury rates across the country. The purpose of the study was to determine the causes of hung juries since these outcomes have implications for defendants and victims, affect public trust in the justice system, and are responsible for rising justice system costs. The methodology involved a three-pronged process: a broad-based survey of hung jury rates in State and Federal courts was conducted, an examination of felony trials in four jurisdictions was undertaken, and an in-depth case study of hung jury trials was implemented. The survey involved an examination of hung jury rates in all Federal courts between 1980 and 1997 and an examination of hung jury rates in 30 large, urban State courts between 1996 and 1998. Also under examination in the State courts survey were pretrial disposition rates, conviction and acquittal rates, and post-hung jury dispositions. Hannaford-Agor discussed the survey results from the Federal and State courts, which showed lower rates of hung juries in Federal versus State courts. An interesting finding was that Federal court hung jury rates varied by circuit, with more hung juries reported in large, urban areas. The results of the examination of hung juries in four jurisdictions and the case studies revealed that there were five main reasons for hung juries: weak evidence, police credibility problems, juror concerns about fairness of the law, case complexity, and dysfunctional deliberation processes. The research showed that those jurors who did not acquiesce in the verdict reported they did so because of a poor understanding of instructions, less credibility of police testimony, greater skill of the defense attorney, and evidence that was more favorable to the defense. Other findings showed that case type had an impact on hung juries, with more hung juries for homicide cases (24 percent) and less for drug cases (12 percent). Evidentiary factors contributing to hung juries included complexity of the case, ambiguity of the evidence, type of evidence, and attorney skills. Hannaford-Agor concluded with an examination of policy implications, including whether non-unanimous verdict rules should be allowed. A question and answer session followed the presentation.