Friday, October 22, 2010

Why Are DC Juries Less Less Likely to Convict Than Juries in Other Jurisdictions?

It is often cited that District of Columbia juries convict defendants less often than juries in other jurisdictions. Juries are certainly quirky creatures. Juries tend to convict attractive people less often than unattractive defendants. Then there's the CSI effect: If prosecutors don't present all the evidence that they could possibly show to a jury --as in an episode of CSI-- the jurors assume that that evidence was lacking.

Studies show that District of Columbia juries do have a higher hung jury rate than many other cities. Race is often cited as a factor in the relatively high DC hung jury rate, but that's not necessarily so. The randomness of human nature often plays a part: In a study done on hung juries, researchers found that religion sometimes influences jurors: One juror said that she heard God say "I have forgiven him." Other jurors have a mistrust of the police that leads them to create their own conspiracy theories.

It seems that when there's one holdout and the verdict is 11 to 1 to convict, that lone juror is more likely to be simply acting on a whim than on the certainty that the evidence proves defendant's innocence.

Eleven-to-one verdicts must be frustrating for the the prosecution, but they are also frustrating for other jurors.  Here's how one DC juror described her feelings about serving on a jury in which the vote was 11 to 1.
Recently, a case involving a defendant in a criminal matter that occurred in Eckington ended in a mistrial. The case was solid and the jury voted 11-1 to convict, save one quirky juror who continuously offered extra scenarios that were not presented as evidence or were logical.
I have served on plenty of juries over the years and I believe the process is worth it. If you are a reasonable person and believe that you can look at evidence presented at trial and evaluate said evidence in a logical and unbiased manner, then please step up. Some people will vote to acquit no matter what the evidence. We need more unbiased, reasonable people serving as jurors. The next time you receive a jury summons in the mail, please answer the call to serve. Be assured that biased persons, unwilling to convict under any circumstances despite overwhelming evidence of a defendant's guilt will be eager to assert their view.


  1. "It is often cited that ...", "Studies show ...". Would have been great to see a couple of these references. I'm dating myself by referring back to the previous practice that wasn't "one day, one trial", which hiked my numbers considerably, but I've served on almost a dozen juries -- I get called like clockwork every 2 years -- and never once has the final verdict been a hung jury. Most recently, I was the hold out in a potential "hung jury" (there were 4 of us who didn't support a guilty verdict at the outset), and I want to tell you that (1) the judge would not let us down easy and (2) being the hold out is not an easy position to be in. The other jurors were really pissed at me because my being a hold out happened to extend over a weekend, so they couldn't leave early on Friday and had to come back on a Monday. At least one of them (the foreman) started doing his own research on the accused's past to try to convince me! I still don't believe the guy was guilty, but I finally gave in to the pressure, because it really didn't seem like the judge would let us loose.

  2. There are links to several studies in the article. Here's one of those studies that compares the hung jury rates in different jurisdictions:

  3. Excuse me, but what do you mean by "the certainty that the evidence proves defendant's innocence"? In this country, guilt is what needs to be proven, not innocence.