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Nullification at Work? A Glimpse From the National Center for State Courts Study of Hung Juries

NCJ Number
Chicago-Kent Law Review Volume: 78 Issue: 3 Dated: 2003 Pages: 1249-1277
Paula L. Hannaford-Agor; Valerie P. Hans
Date Published
29 pages

This article discusses jury nullification.


Jury nullification permits a small minority of citizens to invalidate, in the context of a particular case, laws that have been established through the legislative process. It permits a single individual to temporarily thwart the imposition of the law on a criminal defendant by deadlocking the jury and forcing a mistrial. Jury nullification happens when juries, or individual members of the jury, vote to acquit the defendant although the jurors believe that the defendant is guilty under the law. Public views about the legitimacy of jury nullification are ambivalent. An in-depth study was conducted of 372 felony trials in 4 large, urban courts. Using surveys of judges, attorneys, and jurors, case characteristics were examined, as well as interpersonal dynamics during deliberations, and juror demographics and attitudes. The cases in which the jury reached a verdict were compared to cases in which the jury deadlocked on 1 or more charges. A detailed case study was conducted on the 46 cases from the sample in which the jury hung on one or more charges. The results revealed three critical aspects of felony jury trials that are related to the likelihood that a jury will hang: (1) the evidentiary characteristics of the case; (2) the interpersonal dynamics of deliberations; and (3) jurors’ opinions about the fairness of the law as applied during the trial. Multivariate analyses as well as the case studies component confirmed that all three of these aspects contribute to the likelihood of jury deadlock, although not necessarily in all jurisdictions. The fact that juror concerns about the fairness of a particular law was a significant predictor of hung juries deserves greater attention. In contrast to those that fear rampant jury nullification of the law, jurors in these felony trials gave generally positive ratings about both legal fairness and outcome fairness. Evidentiary factors are particularly important in both acquittal juries and hung juries. The dynamics of jury deliberations are strong influences in hung juries. The combination of so many variables makes it unlikely that jury nullification plays a dominant role in the large majority of cases. 131 footnotes