It was reported yesterday that the jury in the Bill Cosby case was deadlocked but was ordered by the judge to continue to try to reach a verdict.

This was done by reading a standard statement:

Judge Steven O'Neill read a standard statement asking them to try to agree on some or all of the counts.

I have seen judges in the UK do similar things.

What is the justification for this? If a juror has made a decision and you force him to go away and "think again", it seems to me that you're essentially telling him that you want him to change his mind. This is bound to put some pressure on jurors to reach a decision on the basis of keeping the judge happy, rather than on genuine confidence.

In a criminal case, why does a subsequent guilty verdict satisfy the "beyond reasonable doubt" standard of proof, when it is clear that any juror who changed his verdict did in fact have quite significant doubt?

  • They can be ordered to try to agree, but they can't be punished (unless you consider deliberations getting dragged out as punishment) for refusing to do so. All it takes is one juror to refuse to convict and there is no conviction. That juror cannot be legally forced to agree to anything. Note also that the juror is decider of fact but also de facto of law as well.
    – Patrick87
    Jun 17, 2017 at 11:28
  • There is a false premise in "a juror has made a decision and you force him to go away and 'think again'...": no single juror or "side" is singled out. Instructions often admonish jurors not to give in to majority pressure, so from the judge's perspective, the majority may be wrong and what's needed is that the majority listen to the arguments of the minority.
    – user6726
    Jun 19, 2017 at 15:25
  • @user6726 Does the distinction really matter? Either way you have some number of people who made a decision who will need to change their mind if the outcome is to differ. Will a defendant feel better knowing that his hung jury got converted to a guilty verdict, if you explain to him that no juror was singled out, or that the majority listened to the minority? That some jurors had reasonable doubt, but subsequently changed their mind?
    – JBentley
    Jun 19, 2017 at 23:18
  • The distinction matters very much. The legal requirement is for unanimity of verdict, not conformity to the majority view; you have implied the latter, by suggesting that the instruction is aimed at the minority juror. The feelings of the defendant are irrelevant: what matters is whether all of the jurors can apply logic to the facts of the case and reach the same conclusion.
    – user6726
    Jun 19, 2017 at 23:41
  • @user6726 That goes against the grain of what I'm being taught on my criminal law course: that one of the primary functions of criminal law is justice for both the victim and the defendant. In that sense I disagree that the defendant's feelings are irrelevant. I am not suggesting at all that the instruction is aimed at the minority juror, nor have I implied such. If you re-read my comment and post you wills see that it applies regardless of whether it is 1 or 11 jurors who change their mind.
    – JBentley
    Jun 20, 2017 at 12:33

1 Answer 1


Because it is in everybody's interest that the case be finalised one way or the other. A hung jury leaves everyone in limbo - the prosecution needs to decide whether (and when) to go for a retrial and the defendant is unable to get on with their life.

A jury is supposed to reach a unanimous verdict - how they do it is up to them. Pressure by some jurors on others is OK so long as it doesn't cross over into coercion. Some jurisdictions allow for majority verdicts (usually 10-2) but this is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Each jury decides for itself what 'reasonable doubt' means. If I were advocating acquittal I would certainly point out that if the prosecution hasn't convinced me then that is 'reasonable doubt' but I may not win that argument.

  • I disagree that this is in the best interest of the defendant. It's a matter of risk management. By rejecting a hung jury, you're forcing the defendant to take the risk on a guilty verdict now - and that verdict is only possible by persuading jurors to reach a questionable conclusion (i.e. one they weren't comfortable with). By accepting a hung jury, the defendant gains multiple benefits: (a) a verdict which is closer to the "true" opinion of the jurors (hence more likely to be repeated), (b) additional time (possibly on bail), and (c) the possibility that there won't be a retrial at all.
    – JBentley
    Jun 16, 2017 at 13:08
  • As for a jury deciding what reasonable doubt is - they've already done that when they returned without a unanimous or majority verdict. The jurors who didn't return guilty had reasonable doubt, and the jurors who returned guilty had no reasonable doubt. Those positions of doubt are then being overridden by the judge instructing them to go away and reach a different conclusion. What I'm looking for is a justification for why this is considered an acceptable price to pay.
    – JBentley
    Jun 16, 2017 at 13:12
  • 1
    @JBentley reasonable doubt is a collective decision, not an individual one - individual jurors can have individual views on if the evidence has crossed that line but the need to agree on where the line is.
    – Dale M
    Jun 16, 2017 at 21:07
  • That's just a matter of semantics. I can easily reword my comment to describe the jury collectively, and the point will remain. If the jury collectively fails to return a guilty verdict, then it has reasonable doubt collectively. What justifies the judge in saying "I don't like the fact that you have reasonable doubt - go away and change your mind"? Also note that the jury doesn't need to reach a collective decision - after all, we do still have the possibility of a hung jury.
    – JBentley
    Jun 17, 2017 at 10:02

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