A Hung Jury: When a Stalemate Becomes Your Best Option.


Hung juries are generally considered to be a rare outcome to a trial. However, even though it is not a true resolution, it can be considered your best outcome. Hung juries are even rarer when you are dealing with civil cases, where the only thing that you obtain is money. If you are likely to lose a case, a hung jury may be your best option. I have had three criminal cases end with a hung jury and had a civil case that nearly met the same fate when a jury told the court they were hopelessly deadlocked. The jury ended up reaching a verdict after being sent back for further deliberations. Following a hung jury, oftentimes, cases will settle or in a criminal case, the defendant will pled to a lesser charge. In other instances, a case may simply die on the vine and is never tried again. If you are criminal defendant, that is a good outcome. Based upon my experience in this area, I would recommend you do the following things if you want a hung jury:

1. Pick a diverse jury with strong personalities : Assuming you cannot stack the jury with persons favorable to your client’s point of view, you should strive to pick persons who are very different from one another. In order to hang a jury you only need one vote for no verdict. You want persons with strong personalities. If you have weak-willed persons on your jury, they will eventually succumb and capitulate to the majority. If they have similar backgrounds, they are more likely to come together. Conflict is your friend, if your goal is to have the case end in gridlock. The more different two people are the more difficult it is for them to connect with one another.

2. Polarize the Jury: In order to do this you need to find emotional triggers that are likely to evoke a strong response in those persons favorable to your position and persuade them that this is a matter of principle. This theme needs to be driven home at every stage of the trial during jury selection, opening statement, direct examination, cross examination, closing and as part of instructions. You need to present the jury with a clear choice.

3. Find a Good Villain: They say: “When the law is against you, you argue the facts. When the facts are against you, you argue the law. When the facts and the law are both against you, you find someone to give holy hell to and hope that the jury in its outrage ignores the law and the facts.” It ultimately requires that you find a good reason to brand the process unfair, unreasonable or plain biased. If you can find that hook, you have a chance at a hung jury and maybe even an acquittal.

4. Empower Each Juror: The jurors need to be told that in order for a verdict to be rendered a unanimous decision must be reached and juror’s oath requires that they stand alone if the party’s burden has not been. Get each juror to promise that they will hold out if they do not morally agree with the verdict. Empower the jurors by letting them know that they each have the responsibility to hold out for the verdict they believe should be returned and should not surrender their position just to leave earlier. Your client will live with the verdict the rest of his life. Make sure the jury knows that they have the power to say no and owe it to be fair and impartial.

5. Veto power: jury instructions need to tell the jurors know they can say no. Indiana has codified this power. Article I, Section 19 of the Indiana Constitution provides “In all criminal cases whatever, the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the facts.” The Indiana Supreme Court has approved the instruction: “You, gentlemen, in this case, are the judges of law as well as of the facts. You can take the law as given and explained to you by the court, but, if you see fit, you have the legal and constitutional right to reject the same, and construe it for yourselves.” Blake v. State, 130 Ind. 203, 29 N.E. 1077 (1892). It does not, however, give to them the right to disregard the law.” Id. at 204-05, 29 N.E. 1077. Remind jurors of this power they have and present a reason why the law is unjust as applied against your client.

6. Promises are Promises: During voir dire have the jurors each individually promise to hold out for a not-guilty verdict, no matter how long it takes, if this is the verdict that they support. Remind them of their oath in closing.

7. Argue Your Case with Fervor and Sincerity: If you don’t believe in your case, then how can you hope that a juror will hold out alone for a not guilty verdict, etc.

Even Chess Grand Masters have angled for a stalemate, if the board indicates they have no chance to win. Jury nullification is an important safeguard and the last resort against wrongful imprisonment and government tyranny. Sometimes a hung jury is the best outcome you can hope for and certainly beats a loss.

About Richard A. Cook

Richard Cook graduated from Purdue University in the Economics Honor Program in 1979 and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1982. Following law school, Richard served as a federal law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. In 1984, Richard began working as Deputy Prosecutor for the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and from there, served as Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. There he handled a number of complex criminal matters and jury trials. While there, Richard received the Chief Postal Inspector's Special Award and a letter of commendation from the U.S. Attorney General for his work prosecuting a major money order fraud scheme being perpetrated out of the Indiana State Prison system. Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's office in 1989, Richard has focused primarily on civil work and is currently a member of the firm Yosha Cook & Tisch in Indianapolis. Richard is also a member of the ITLA, IBA and the ABA, as well as, a fellow for the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

Posted on March 30, 2014, in Jury Selection, Trial Advocacy, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: