Criminal Lawyers SydneyWhat is a Hung Jury

September 6, 20220
Understanding a Hung Jury: The Australian Legal System

What is a Hung Jury?

what is a hung juryThe outcome of a criminal trial is far from certain. In the event of a deadlocked jury, also known as a hung jury, there are a number of potential outcomes.

In Australia, it is not uncommon for trials to end with a hung jury, where juries cannot reach a unanimous verdict, or a majority verdict where those are available (as they are in NSW). Trials may remain unresolved after several rounds of deliberation.

As of 2002, in NSW one in every six trials in the District Court ended without reaching a conclusion. (This statistic covers both hung juries and trials aborted by the Judge for any number of reasons). Majority verdicts have since been instituted in NSW, although it is unclear whether this step has resulted in much change to the proportion of hung juries.

This guide provides an overview of hung juries today, their implications, and what steps need to be taken to resolve the issue in order for a new trial to take place, if that is to be the outcome.

What Does a Hung Jury Mean?

A hung jury happens when a jury is unable to reach a unanimous, or majority, verdict. This means that all, or a majority, of the jury members are unable to find the defendant guilty, or all, of a majority, of the jurors do not find the defendant to be not guilty. Therefore, the jury cannot deliver a verdict. A hung jury can happen for a variety of reasons, including jury tampering, jury bias and inadequate jury instructions. A hung jury is not the same as an unresolved jury. An unresolved jury is when a jury cannot reach a verdict, but they have not deliberated long enough to be considered a hung jury. A hung jury can be caused by jury tampering. In this scenario, a jury member or members are influenced or coerced to vote a certain way in order to secure a certain verdict. A hung jury is also possible if jury bias occurs. This occurs when the jury members are unable to be impartial, leading them to vote a certain way. Additionally, inadequate jury instructions can lead to a hung jury. This happens when the judge does not provide the jury with sufficient information to make an informed decision. But there are many other reasons, and indeed, juries’ deliberations are often difficult to predict or understand.

When Can a Hung Jury Happen?

A hung jury can occur at any time. However, there are a few instances that can increase the likelihood of this happening. The first is when there is a high-profile case, such as a celebrity trial. This can create a lot of publicity, which can make it difficult for the jurors to remain impartial. Another instance when a hung jury can occur is when there are a number of complicated issues in the case. This can make it difficult or impossible for the jury to reach a verdict. “Judge alone trials” can be used in NSW in order to avert some of these issues, but there are some restrictions to these types of trials.

Another instance of when a hung jury may happen is when the jury has been deliberating for a long time. In some cases, judges have made it mandatory for juries to reach a verdict within a certain time frame. If the jury does not reach a verdict within this timeframe, they are discharged, meaning that they cannot continue to deliberate.

Different Types of Hung Juries

One type of hung jury occurs when the jury cannot agree on which charge the defendant should be convicted of. For example, the jury may vote 10-2 in favor of the defendant on one charge and 10-2 in favor of the prosecution on another charge.

Another type of hung occurs when the jury cannot agree on the verdict for the charge. For example, the jury may be split 6-4 in relation to a single charge.

Potential Outcomes When There is a Hung Jury

jury trialIf the jury is unable to reach a decision, then the Judge may decide to discharge the jury and declare a mistrial. This means that the case is unable to proceed to conclusion, and a retrial is the usual result.

An unresolved jury may be able to be resolved by a number of measures. For example, additional instructions from the Judge may resolve the impasse. A majority verdict occurs (when permitted, as it is in NSW) when the jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision.

Retrial After a Hung Jury

In the event of a hung jury, a retrial is often ordered. This means that a new trial is set up with a new jury. After a hung jury, the new trial will likely begin with an entirely new set of jurors. If a re-trial is ordered, the new trial will be run again, with all evidence having to be given again by all witnesses. The inconvenience caused by this fact, is one reason why the prosecution may decide not to proceed to a retrial, but to withdraw the charge instead.

So What is a Hung Jury? – Conclusion

A hung jury can have significant and long-term consequences. In addition to the time and money required to complete the retrial, the defendant may remain in jail on remand while they await the new trial. In certain circumstances, the mistrial may provide a reason for the Judge agreeing to grant bail to the defendant, but in very serious matters, this is unlikely to the case. The Australian legal system is complex and challenging. Although the jury system is tried and tested, and a permanent and important part of our legal system, it is not without its faults. In the event of a hung jury, there are a number of potential outcomes, the most likely of which  will result in a retrial.

If you’re worried about what is a hung jury and you are facing a jury trial (or any type of trial), call Criminal Lawyers Sydney and Suburbs on (02) 9533 2269.

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