Legal Dictionary

hung jury

Legal Definition of hung jury


  1. A jury is required to make a unanimous or near unanimous verdict. When the jurors, after full debate and discussion, are unable to agree on a verdict and are deadlocked with differences of opinion that appear to be irreconcilable, it is said to be a "hung jury". The result is a mistrial.

Definition of hung jury


hung jury (plural hung juries)

  1. A jury in a legal trial which is unable to reach a verdict because jurors are unable to agree.

    The prosecution re-filed charges less than an after a mistrial was declared due to a hung jury.

Further reading

A hung jury or deadlocked jury is a jury that cannot agree upon a verdict after an extended period of deliberation and is unable to change its votes due to severe differences of opinion.

United States

In the United States, the result is a mistrial, and the case may be retried. Some jurisdictions permit the court to give the jury a so-called Allen charge, inviting the dissenting jurors to re-examine their opinions, as a last ditch effort to prevent the jury from hanging.

Juries in criminal cases are generally, as a rule, required to reach a unanimous verdict, while juries in civil cases typically have to reach a majority on some level. In jurisdictions giving those involved in the case a choice of jury size (such as between a six-person and twelve-person jury), defense counsel in both civil and criminal cases frequently opt for the larger number of jurors. A hung jury is generally regarded as the next best thing to an acquittal. A common axiom in criminal cases is that "it takes only one to hang," referring to the fact that, in some cases, a single juror can defeat the required unanimity.

If a defendant has been found guilty of a capital offense (one that, because of aggravating factors like rape during a premeditated murder, could result in the death penalty if the person is eligible- over 18 at the time of the offense and not mentally retarded), then the opinion of the jury must be unanimous if the defendant is to be sentenced to death.

One proposal for dealing with the difficulties associated with hung juries has been to introduce supermajority verdicts. This measure would allow juries to convict defendants without unanimous agreements amongst the jurors. Hence, a 12-member jury that would otherwise be deadlocked at 11 for conviction and 1 against, would be recorded as a guilty verdict for the defendant. The rationale for majority verdicts usually includes arguments involving so-called 'rogue jurors' who unreasonably impede the course of justice. Opponents of majority verdicts argue that it undermines public confidence in criminal justice systems and results in a higher number of individuals convicted of crimes they did not commit. Currently two states, Oregon and Louisiana, do not require unanimous verdicts in criminal cases.

England and Wales

In England and Wales a majority of 10-2 is needed for a verdict; failure to reach this may lead to a retrial.


In Scotland in criminal cases juries consist of 15, and 8 jurors are needed to arrive at a guilty verdict, even if the size of the jury drops below 15 e.g. because of illness. It is not possible to have a hung jury since if this number is not reached it is treated as an acquittal.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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