Hung Juries In Two Big Cases This Week Would Be Rare Event

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Two juries deliberating high profile criminal trials this week appeared unable to reach agreement on a verdict. Judges sent the jurors in both cases back to continue deliberations, NPR reports. In Pennsylvania, four days after getting the case, the jury considering sexual assault charges against Bill Cosby said they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on any of the three counts against the 79-year-old comedian. Jurors began a fifth day of talks today. In Minnesota, the jury considering the fate of a police officer charged in the shooting death of a black motorist, Philando Castile, finished its fourth day of deliberations yesterday. [Update: On Friday, the jury acquitted officer Jeronimo Yanez in Castile’s shooting.]

As the two cases teetered on the brink of hung juries, you might think it happens quite often. Hung juries are actually rare, happening about 5 to 6 percent of the time in state criminal trials, and about 3 percent of the time in federal criminal trials, says Cornell law Prof. Valerie Hans. “It’s not uncommon for a jury to be deadlocked at first but then to reach a verdict after some prodding from the judge,” says Larry Cunningham of St. John’s Law School in New York, and a former prosecutor. To break a deadlock, judges can deliver what is known as an “Allen” (after Allen v. United States, an 1896 Supreme Court case) or “dynamite” charge. “The judge instructs the jurors that they should each reexamine their beliefs, go over the evidence, listen to the opinions of others, and understand that if a mistrial is declared, another jury will have to be empaneled to hear the same evidence — all at considerable expense,” Cunningham says. As to why juries deadlock, Hans says “the number-one reason we have found from research is the evidence being closely balanced.”

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