February 21, 2020 | Criminal Defense
In early January, an Indiana man facing murder and robbery charges learned he would have to face another trial after the jury said it was hung.
Although they cleared him of the robbery charge, the jury could not reach a decision on the one for murder.
So, what exactly does that mean?
It’s not unusual for a jury that’s close to reaching a verdict to have a few members reluctant to join the majority.
How Many Jurors Must Agree?
Under Indiana law, criminal cases (drug offenses, sex crime charges, domestic violence accusations, etc.) require a unanimous jury verdict. That means that all jurors have to agree on their verdict. If the jury is deciding a civil case (a dispute among neighbors, traffic offenses, etc.), only a majority of jurors must agree on the verdict.
How Long Do Jurors Have To Reach a Verdict?
There’s no firm deadline given to the jury as they prepare to deliberate. However, if a jury deciding a criminal case is having trouble reaching a unanimous verdict, the judge may issue an “Allen charge” to them.
Named after a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case, the legal term is a form of pressure on the jury members having trouble going along with the majority. It encourages them to reconsider the available evidence to avoid a mistrial.
If jurors believe there’s no hope of reaching a unanimous verdict regardless of how much time they take, they’ll tell the judge they’re hung and a mistrial will be declared.
What Is a Mistrial?
This essentially means that a trial is over either because the jury could not reach a verdict or there was a serious error made during the trial that would make the verdict unfair.
What Happens If All Jurors Cannot Agree On the Sentence?
It’s not unusual for jurors to be in agreement about someone’s guilt or innocence, yet unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the sentencing.
Indiana is one of two states – Missouri is the other – that gives the judge authority to determine the sentencing in such cases.
What Happens After a Hung Jury?
If the jury in one criminal case is hung, the prosecutor will then make a decision about whether to try the case again with a new jury.
Often after a hung jury, the state – not confident that a second trial will result in a conviction – will up their game in trying to reach a plea agreement.
A typical plea agreement will include the state reducing the charges and potential penalties against you in exchange for you pleading guilty.
What Happens To My Charges If the Jury Is Hung?
If the state decides it doesn’t want to take its chances during a second trial, your criminal defense lawyer could move to have the charges dismissed with or without prejudice.
Having them dismissed with prejudice means you can’t be prosecuted for the same offense again. The “without prejudice” phrase means the state can come after you again for the same charges.
How Many Cases Go to Trial?
That number is dropping. According to a report, jury trials in Indiana specifically are on the decline.
For example, while there were 1,514 cases decided by Indiana juries in 2010, the number was down to 1,160 just five years later.
Many other states are reporting similar declines in jury trials.
As for the reason, an increasingly growing number of cases are decided by plea deals and other arrangements worked out by both sides instead of proceeding to court.
Some legal experts point to the 2014 reform of the Indiana criminal code that reduced prison terms and emphasized community service and treatment programs when appropriate.
Who Serves on a Jury?
A jury in a criminal case usually has 12 members from the local community.
To determine who can serve as a juror, names from a master list comprised of registered voters and driver’s license holders are randomly selected by the clerk of court.
Once a pool of potential jurors has been gathered, lawyers representing both sides of the case will ask them questions to determine whether they have a bias about the case. If either lawyer feels a potential juror cannot be unbiased – for whatever reason – that person can be dismissed from serving.
This process will continue until both lawyers settle on a 12-member jury.
The Key Takeaway
If you’ve been charged for any criminal offense – regardless of how minor you think the offense is – the smartest course of action is to get in touch with a criminal defense attorney who can successfully guide you through the system.
The legal landscape is a completely alien environment for those without a working knowledge of how it operates. One false move can lead to severe consequences for the rest of your life.