Deadlocked Jury In Law Firm Case: Why Must Juries Be Unanimous?


When the founding fathers enshrined a right to an impartial trial by jury in the Sixth Amendment, it's hard to imagine they were anticipating the jury in the Dewey & LeBoeuf criminal case. In the wake of the financial crisis and a wave of partner defections, the once-prominent law firm collapsed in 2012 in one of the nation's largest law firm failures, says the New York Times. Last month, after hearing four and a half months of often mind-numbing evidence, and after 21 days of deliberations, a jury acquitted the firm's former leaders of dozens of charges but deadlocked on 93 counts, including some of the most serious. The verdict was satisfying to no one. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance failed to get a conviction in one of his most prominent white-collar criminal prosecutions, and now he and his team of prosecutors have to decide whether to retry the complicated, expensive case.

Interviews with jurors show that some refused to budge or explain their positions, while others seemed to change their minds constantly, sometimes on what seemed little more than a whim. Some jurors closed their eyes and refused to listen when other jurors spoke. The U.S., Canada and a few jurisdictions in Australia are the last places to require unanimous juries in criminal cases. Both Oregon and Louisiana require votes of 10 to 2. Edward Schwartz, a jury consultant for DecisionQuest in Boston and a former Harvard professor, favors dropping the unanimity requirement in favor of some degree of majority vote. “It's an artifact of the earliest days of the jury system,” he said, when jurors were deprived of food, water and drink until they reached a unanimous decision. “The rule has no logical foundation. Requiring unanimity is peculiar, ineffective and a blunt instrument.”

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