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Must All Jury Verdicts Be Unanimous?

After both sides in a trial present all of their evidence, the jury goes to a private room with all the evidence and deliberates. The jury then votes on a verdict and presents it to the court. If you've seen television shows or movies that involve the jury process, you may have noticed that, at least some of the time, the jury must be unanimous in its verdict. At the same time, you may have also wondered when unanimous verdicts are required and what happens if a verdict can't be reached.

Federal Court Jury Verdicts: Must Be Unanimous

There are two court systems in the United States: federal and state courts. Each covers different types of cases. In the federal system, whether the trial is criminal or civil, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict.

State Court Jury Verdicts: Unanimity Not Always Required

In state courts, whether a jury needs to be unanimous depends on the state and the type of trial. For criminal trials, nearly every state requires the jury to produce a unanimous verdict.

For civil trials, almost one-third of states only require a majority for a verdict. Some states require a majority if the money at issue in the trial is below a certain amount, and a unanimous verdict all other times.

What Happens After a Hung Jury?

Sometimes, a jury cannot gather enough votes for one verdict. This is called a "hung jury." What happens after a hung jury depends on the court and type of trial. Some courts allow the jury to create a list of questions for the parties to answer in an additional hearing. Sometimes the judge may declare a mistrial.

Consequences of a Mistrial

If there is a mistrial in a civil case, the plaintiff must decide whether to pursue the case further and retry the lawsuit in the future or to drop the case entirely. For a criminal case, after a mistrial is declared, the following events may occur:

  • The prosecutor dismisses the charges;
  • A plea bargain is reached; or
  • The defendant will be tried on the same charges in a future trial.

Double Jeopardy

Any retrial of a defendant must be in line with the double jeopardy clause in the Fifth Amendment, the provision which prevents the accused of being subject to trial on identical charges. However, the prohibition against double jeopardy applies when there is a valid conviction or acquittal and doesn't typically apply in cases of a mistrial when the jury is deadlocked. In those cases, the defendant can be retried on any count on which the jury could not agree.

Judge's Discretion to Set Aside Verdicts

If the jury does reach a decision, then a related issue is whether the judge has the authority to overturn the verdict. For civil trials, a judge may set aside the verdict concerning the monetary amount awarded by the jury to the plaintiff in punitive damages. For criminal cases, the judge may overturn a jury's guilty decision or grant a new trial if they believe that there wasn't sufficient evidence to affirm the jury's decision. However, a judge can't overturn an acquittal.

Question About Unainmous Jury Verdicts? Connect With an Attorney

The laws about unanimous jury verdicts can be confusing, but they may be critical to your situation. If you have questions about jury verdicts or other litigation topics, including the appeals process, consider speaking with an experienced attorney for a confidential analysis.

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