36

I don't understand the logic with allowing additional trials after a hung jury. Isn't the fact that the prosecution can't get 12 jurors to agree the accused is guilty proof that guilt was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and so he should be acquitted?

Why does a not guilty verdict have to be unanimous as well?

4
  • 1
    Note that decisions do not have to be unanimous (at least in common law jurisdictions). One or even two dissenters can be permitted depending on jury size and other factors.
    – Nij
    Nov 14 at 7:37
  • 2
    @Nij That may be true in countries like the UK, but verdicts in the US must be unanimous (which was established in Ramos v. Louisiana. In the US, a common saying is that '[i]t only takes one to hang'.
    – Tolga
    Nov 14 at 11:43
  • 1
    The jury didn't think there was reasonable doubt. Nov 15 at 1:39
  • 2
    As a scientist I fully agree with your assessment. (Un)fortunately this is not how the world works. I wouldn't be surprised though if there could be a decision in the future which will exactly establish this principle
    – lalala
    Nov 15 at 11:16
28

No. It means the existence of reasonable doubt is in doubt...

One cannot conclude the question of guilt in either direction, so one must try again to see if a different jury can answer the meta-question, to then answer the legal question of guilt.

... or is not being addressed

If only one person is voting against the consensus, or as many as are allowed by the jurisdiction, they are overruled. That's the allowance made for bias that has somehow reached the jury despite the filtering done beforehand.

If more people are voting against the majority so that consensus is not possible, it is potentially because someone has made up their mind on the question of guilt regardless of what (some significant part or the weight of) the evidence indicates, defeating the purpose of the trial and providing all the evidence.

A person not accounting for all the evidence can't be said to have reasonable doubt of guilt, since the doubt may be excluded by the remaining evidence. Similarly, guilt beyond reasonable doubt cannot be supported by only partial evidence, as exculpatory evidence may be among the part not accounted for.

... or cannot be addressed by that jury at all.

Finally, a jury split on the decision of how to weigh the evidence cannot claim either to have or to have dismissed reasonable doubt, because they cannot agree on what a reasonable doubt is, in the first place.

13
  • 37
    "If no consensus is possible, it is invariably because someone has made up their mind on the question of guilt regardless of what (some significant part or the weight of) the evidence indicates" - that seems like a very naive view. Even accounting for all evidence, people can disagree. Nov 14 at 15:25
  • 1
    That's a fine answer except for the fact that it is only the lack of reasonable doubt that is supposed to be need proven. I would say the real answer is 'history' rather than that the unanimity criteria for acquittal actually makes sense when compared against the statement of the basic rule (that is, that the prosecution bears the entire burden and must prove the case beyond reasonable doubt to the satisfaction of all jurors). A system without hung juries would still match that statement (indeed, would match more closely as there would not be the hung jury exception). Nov 14 at 21:52
  • 4
    Exactly @user2357112. A minority disagreeing does not mean that person is wrong or didn't consider all the evidence. They may be guided by different experiences. And they may be right. Actual truth isn't up to a vote. Nov 15 at 5:27
  • 2
    If there was reasonable doubt, the result wouldn't be a hung jury, it would be "not guilty (because of reasonable doubt)". A jury may very well be hung because one juror has unreasonable doubts and thinks their doubts are reasonable.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 15 at 11:42
  • 1
    "potentially because someone has made up their mind on the question of guilt regardless" or politically motivated charges were brought. This is the intended failure mode of politically motivated charges: hung jury after hung jury until the government is fed up.
    – Joshua
    Nov 15 at 17:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.