Juries, judges, and the determination to reach a verdict

In perusing news about juries, we often come across stories like this one, from the Washington Post:

A federal judge has told jurors to continue deliberating at Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford’s fraud trial after they indicated they’re deadlocked on at least some of the 14 charges against him.

In this particular case, the judge had to instruct the jury to resume deliberations–in other words, keep at it. In such cases, prosecutors often fret that the jury will end up deadlocked or only reach agreement on lesser charges, but in the end, the jury delivered a harsh verdict. The AP story that followed, such as the version that ran in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, may have emphasized the prosecutors’ sense that no punishment was good enough, but the point here is simply that the jury had to keep working until it satisfied the judge that it had finished its task.

Imagine if other quasi-deliberative bodies, such as legislatures, city councils, or commissions, had to keep working, even when they reached an impasse. It’s not clear who they judge would be, but the experience of the jury suggests that people are often more capable of finding agreement and common ground than they believe. Time and again, jurors will plead with a judge to be excused as a hung jury, only to turn around and reach a verdict or even a sweeping set of verdicts. Surely that sometimes results from minority voices opting to go along to get along, or from a crude compromise between opposing sides, but sometimes, it appears to reflect a genuine arrival at a point of agreement that would have proven elusive had it not been for the judicial instruction to keep at it.



About jgastil

John Gastil is Head and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in political deliberation and group decision making.
This entry was posted in Deliberation on juries, Verdicts juries reach. Bookmark the permalink.

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