You probably have heard the term “hung jury” in TV programs and movies, but what exactly does it mean? Basically, a jury is referred to as “hung” when it is unable to reach an agreement on a verdict. When a hung jury occurs, the judge declares a mistrial, and the case may be tried again.
Generally speaking, a verdict is a unanimous decision agreed upon by all 12 jurors. However, certain cases do not always require a unanimous verdict. For instance, some states only require a majority decision in civil cases. A very small percentage of states allow for a majority decision in criminal cases. All federal court trials—both criminal and civil—require a unanimous verdict.
When a jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision—or a sufficient majority decision, if applicable—then the judge will declare a mistrial. Typically, a judge will do everything in his or her power to avoid a mistrial; however, if a jury is completely deadlocked and unable to reach a verdict, a mistrial is unavoidable.
Once a mistrial has been declared, one of three things typically happens. One option is for the case to be tried again, with an entirely new jury. The prosecution also has the option of dismissing the charges or offering a plea bargain to the defendant. In a civil case, the parties may opt to settle, rather than going through the trial process again.