Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Deadlock Charge vs. Allen Charge: Why a Deadlock Charge is Better for Minority Jurors

When a jury is deadlocked, the judge may issue what’s called the Allen charge. The charge is an instruction that “encourages” the jury to come to a decision by having the jurors listen to each other’s opinions (without compromising each juror’s own conscientiously held belief) all in an attempt to reach a unanimous verdict.

The issuance of an Allen charge, however, is the subject of much debate. Should the judge, in effect, ask the minority jurors to render a verdict against their consciences? Is the overall effect on minority jurors positive, or negative? What modifications to the Allen charge would be helpful; or, in the alternative, would it be best to get rid of the Allen charge altogether?

The main problem most people find with the Allen charge is that it pressures the minority jurors to “give in” to the majority view. Thus, even though the instruction may contain an admonishment for the jurors not to compromise their conscientiously held views, the effect of the charge is that the minority jurors experience pressure to conform to the views of the majority because the judge (a figure with authority) essentially tells them to conform.

If the court sincerely wants to avoid a jury deadlock, one suggested alternative to the Allen charge is for the judge to give deadlock instructions before the jury even starts to deliberate. This would alleviate pressure on minority jurors because, when the instruction is given, there would not yet be a minority for the charge to be directed towards.

The American Bar Association’s (ABA) Standards Relating to Trial by Jury propose a model deadlock charge. In fact, several state supreme courts have already either severely modified or abolished the Allen charge in favor of the ABA’s model deadlock instructions:

(1) that in order to return a verdict, each juror must agree thereto; (2) that jurors have a duty to consult with one another and to deliberate with a view to reaching an agreement, if it can be done without violence to individual judgment; (3) that each juror must decide the case for himself or herself but only after an impartial consideration of the evidence with the other jurors; (4) that in the course of deliberations, a juror should not hesitate to reexamine his or her own views and change an opinion if the juror is convinced it is erroneous; and (5) that no juror should surrender his or her honest belief as to the weight or effect of the evidence solely because of the opinion of the other jurors, or for the mere purpose of returning a verdict.

Many states have adopted the ABA model deadlock instructions because the instruction is given before a majority and minority have even formed during deliberations. This serves to alleviate the pressure that minority jurors may feel because the charge does not seem to be directed at them. Overall, it assures a more fair and balanced deliberation and, hopefully, a correct verdict. 

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