Court proceedings can be a dramatic thing to watch.
One of the tensest moments is when the jury leaves after the lawyers have given their final statements.
If you haven’t watched a court proceeding before, you may wonder just how long a jury can deliberate.
Here’s everything you need to know about jury duty and how long they deliberate for.
How Long Can A Jury Deliberate For?
There is no limit to how long a jury can deliberate.
They’re encouraged to take as long as they need.
That’s because they’re usually deciding some serious stuff.
The fate of someone’s life is in their hands.
For high-profile cases, it’s not unusual for juries to deliberate for a couple of days or even weeks.
The judge even encourages the jury to take their time and come back when they’ve made a unanimous decision.
A jury can only return when they’ve made a unanimous decision or if they cannot make a unanimous decision.
What Is A Hung Jury?
In some cases, you may hear about a hung jury.
A hung jury is a jury that cannot come to a unanimous decision, or, in most civil cases, it is a jury that cannot get the majority votes it needs to proceed and pass a verdict.
A hung jury is also sometimes called a deadlocked jury.
When this occurs, the matter goes before the judge.
The judge will then determine if the jury has spent enough time deliberating or if they need to declare a mistrial.
For example, if the jury has only deliberated for a few hours, the judge might request that they return to the deliberations.
They might remind the jury about the time and expenses that those involved in the case have spent.
To not come to a decision means that they’re going to have to spend that time and expense once more.
This type of encouragement might be enough to focus the jury and persuade some jurors to switch sides or revisit discussions.
If, however, the jury has taken days or weeks to come to a decision, the judge might declare a mistrial.
This is when the jury cannot come to a decision.
A mistrial means that both the defendant and prosecutor are back where they were before the trial began
This then allows the court to try the case again.
Sometimes this means new lawyers will come to represent their clients.
Sometimes it means the trial might move to a different court.
It usually means new jurors will get selected to hear the case with the hope that they might be able to pass a verdict.
A hung jury can add some drama to the case, but for those involved, it can be a very frustrating experience.
Do Juries Have To Be Unanimous?
One of the biggest reasons that juries take so long to decide on a verdict is that the decision has to be unanimous.
There’s only one state where jurors don’t need to have a unanimous decision.
That state is Oregon.
In Oregon, the jury only needs a vote of 10 jurors, out of the standard 12, to pass a verdict.
Otherwise, all jurors have to agree on the verdict to make it pass.
Do Longer Deliberations Mean The Jury Is Leaning Towards Acquittal?
Some believe that if the jury is taking a long time to deliberate, it means they’re more likely to acquit the defendant.
That isn’t always the case, however.
The main reason that people believe this is that it means the prosecution didn’t put up enough evidence to convict the defendant.
If the evidence was clear that the defendant was guilty, it wouldn’t take long for the jury to decide on the verdict.
The problem with this thinking is that there’s a lot more to it than just deciding if a defendant is guilty or innocent.
They also have to deliberate on damages.
While sentencing is up to the judge, some juries get to decide how much in damages certain people pay others.
For example, the prosecution may ask for a certain amount of damages for the defendant to pay.
The jury may decide that the defendant is guilty, but they may not be sure that the damage amount is correct.
As such, they then need to deliberate on how much the defendant needs to pay.
That also requires a unanimous vote.
If people have different mindsets on it, the deliberation might take a while.
As such, long jury deliberations do not always mean that the defendant is getting an acquittal.
Do Faster Jury Deliberations Mean The Jury Is Leaning Towards A Charge of Guilty?
You might also wonder about deliberations that only take a few hours or a day or two.
If the jury doesn’t deliberate that long, you may wonder if it means they’re leaning towards a charge of guilty for the defendant.
In some cases, this might be true.
The prosecution may have done such a great job of presenting evidence that made it clear the defendant was at fault.
In this case, it may not take much time at all for the jury to decide the verdict.
However, it isn’t always the case.
Some juries may not take a long time because the defendant did a great job.
They may believe that the defendant did a great job of refuting the evidence.
It’s even possible that the prosecution did a poor job of presenting evidence that proved their claims.
Whatever the reason, just because a jury doesn’t take a long time to deliberate doesn’t mean it’s because they find the defendant guilty.
Why Do Juries Take So Long To Deliberate?
If you’re watching a court case and it enters the jury deliberation stage, you may wonder what’s taking them so long to come to a decision.
You may have made up your mind about it, so you might be confused as to why it’s taking them so long.
Here are a few factors that can influence the time it takes for a jury to deliberate.
1. Civil Versus Criminal
One of the factors that can influence how long a jury takes to deliberate is whether the case is civil or criminal.
A civil case usually means there’s some sort of dispute between two individuals.
The stakes can be high in terms of damages, but because it isn’t a criminal case, the consequences aren’t always so severe.
Because the stakes typically aren’t as high, civil cases tend to have faster deliberations than criminal ones.
Civil cases that involve a lot of money tend to take longer than civil cases that involve not as much money.
That’s because the stakes are just a bit higher.
As a result, most people on the jury want to ensure that they’re making the right decision.
Criminal cases often mean that someone is going to jail.
If the particular state has the death penalty, the jurors know that they could potentially be sending someone to their death.
The stakes are very high in a criminal case.
Whether it’s a murder case or a domestic abuse case, the jurors find themselves with a serious decision to make.
Because the stakes are high, they tend to take more time looking over the evidence and certain parts of the trial again.
They debate and discuss with one another.
In most cases, no juror wants to send the wrong person to jail.
That isn’t something people want on their conscience.
As such, they move a bit slower to make a verdict on a criminal case than on a civil case.
Jury deliberations can become quite long when it’s a criminal case and not a low-stakes civil case.
2. Number Of Jurors
Another big factor that influences how long a jury deliberates is the number of jurors.
Most trials either have six or 12 jurors.
When the trial ends, the jurors close themselves off together and start talking.
When a jury has only six jurors, deliberations tend to be a bit faster than those with 12 jurors.
That’s because there are fewer opinions.
It’s easier for everyone to voice their thoughts.
In a jury of 12 people, you tend to have a lot of different opinions and perspectives on things.
Small groups sometimes form and refuse to back down on their stance on the matter.
It can be difficult for larger juries to come to a verdict because everyone needs time and opportunity to have their thoughts on the matter said.
3. Unanimous Decision
Another big factor that determines the speed of deliberation is the fact that many trials require a unanimous decision.
This isn’t always the case.
There are some civil cases where trials can allow jurors to have a simple majority vote rather than a unanimous one.
This makes deliberations faster because it means the jury doesn’t have to convince everyone to get on the same page.
They only need a majority.
This isn’t always ideal for some trials.
For example, if a jury only gets the majority by one person, it’s clear that there’s a big divide among them.
Yet, the majority is the one that sets the verdict.
A unanimous decision, however, is harder to come by.
It’s more difficult to convince everyone to think or feel the same way about a certain issue.
Because the decision needs everyone, if even one juror feels the verdict is wrong, they can hold out.
They can refuse to agree to the verdict.
The deliberation then continues on and on.
If the juror is ever convinced, the unanimous decision gets made, and the verdict gets read.
If the juror is never convinced, it might result in a hung jury and a mistrial.
Deliberations tend to be a bit longer when the trial requires a unanimous decision instead of a majority one.
4. Case Complexity
The complexity of the case can also make it last longer.
A complex case is when the defendant has several charges brought against them.
In a criminal case, it might be something like murder, sexual assault, and thievery.
Each count has its own repercussions.
In some cases, the defendant may also have benefits that keep them from receiving too harsh of a punishment
For example, they might give up names of other criminals to reduce a sentence or to get a charge dropped.
That adds further complexity to the case because the jury has to forget certain details.
They no longer apply to the case.
Instead, they have to focus on the evidence and arguments made for and against the remaining charges.
Deliberations take longer for cases that have several charges because the jury has to consider each one.
They might find that the defendant is guilty of one charge but not the other, or they might find that the defendant is guilty of all of them, but not to the degree that’s suggested.
That then requires further deliberation.
Even civil cases like white-collar crimes bring in some measure of complexity.
Not only do jurors need to understand exactly the type of crime that was supposedly committed, but they need to understand what each charge represents.
5. Case Severity
Another factor that can make a jury deliberation last longer is how severe the case is.
Criminal cases that involve murder and rape, for example, are severe.
They involve the loss of a life or a traumatic experience for the victim.
The family of the victim wants justice.
The jury has to balance their own feelings on the matter with rational thought based on the presented evidence.
It takes them longer to deliberate because the issue at hand is extremely important and delicate.
Not only do they want to make sure that they’re not sending an innocent person to jail, but they also want to make sure that they’re giving the victim proper justice.
Making a mistake could haunt them forever.
6. Jury Experience
A final factor that can influence how long a deliberation takes place is the juror’s experience.
If there are jurors who have performed the service before, they’re more familiar with the proceedings.
They have a better handle on the language and know how to guide everyone else.
If the jury is entirely made up of newcomers, the deliberation may take a bit longer.
No one knows exactly what they’re doing.
They may be unsure of how to speak about certain issues or how to get the deliberation started.
While they can ask questions about certain things, they’re left alone to come to a verdict.
With no one to guide them, they’re learning a new type of skill on their own.
Deliberating, debating, and discussing are skills that not everyone has.
If no one in the jury possesses these skills, it can make coming to a verdict rather difficult.
On the other hand, jurors with experience know how to deliberate and guide others.
They’re able to come to a decision faster.
Juries can take as long as they need to reach a verdict.
Because there are sometimes high stakes involved, some juries take a long time to reach a verdict.
Some of the factors listed above are also reasons why it can take a jury a long time to deliberate.