Before I start let me state that this w/u is Americentric in nature and deals mostly with cases heard in a criminal court. I’m pretty sure that in proceedings before a civil court, there’s a whole ‘nuther set of circumstances to deal with. I’m also sure other noders from other parts of the globe have their own means and methods for dealing with criminal and civil cases that play by an entirely different set of rules.
I’m sure most of us have the seen the movie 12 Angry Men at some point in our lives. If not, most of us are probably familiar with the premise. For those of you who might have been living under a rock or just haven’t been exposed to the storyline, let me give a very brief synopsis.
In short it’s one of those courtroom dramas in which Henry Fonda plays the lone juror who is unwilling to vote to convict a person charged with a crime even though the evidence is seemingly overwhelming. The other jurors have cast their vote and it’s eleven to one against the defendant. Fonda explains to them that another person’s life is on the line and they need more time to re-hash the facts of the case. At first, the other members of the jury pool express their hostility at Fonda for his unwillingness to convict but as the story line progresses, he slowly convinces them that the facts, as stated are wrong, and after each ballot is cast, more and more jurors are seeing things through his eyes. Finally, at the end, he convinces them that there is indeed enough of a “shadow of a doubt” and the defendant's innocence is eventually proclaimed.
Just imagine however if Fonda or one of the eleven other jurors had stuck to their guns and couldn’t be persuaded to change their vote. What if after hours or days or possibly even weeks of deliberation the jury remained deadlocked and wouldn’t budge from their positions?
Most likely, they would inform the bailiff of their plight and he/she would relate that information back to the judge presiding over the case. In most cases, the judge in turn might then further instruct the jury about the rules of evidence and ask that they deliberate further until they reached a conclusion.
If no conclusion is forthcoming, the judge would have no choice but to declare the jury “hung” and order the case a mistrial. Usually, this action is seen as a “verdict” in favor of the defense however the prosecution does have the right to retry the case in front of another jury. This all comes at the expense of the taxpayer and the prosecution will usually think long and hard about going forward with a new trial even though the double jeopardy rule doesn't apply.
Naturally prosecutors and the like aren’t too pleased with the whole “unanimous verdict” scenario and certain changes in the law have taken place over the years that make the likelihood of a hung jury less and less.
For instance, instead of the traditional panel of twelve jurors, many states have gone to smaller ones. After all, it’s easier to convince six people of a certain situation than it is twelve. Some states have even gone to a “majority rules” scenario in order to gain a conviction thereby almost eliminating the possibility of jury being hung.
I’m on the fence as to whether this is good or bad. On one hand, you have the definite possibility of an outcome and on the other, innocent people can be sent to jail. I guess I’m still leaning towards the unanimous side of the coin since I just couldn’t imagine being sent to prison for a crime I didn’t commit.
Last but not least, for what it’s worth – even you haven’t seen 12 Angry Men or even if you have and it’s been a while – make a point to see it again. In my limited opinion, Fonda’s performance ranks right up there with Gregory Peck’s in To Kill a Mockingbird.