What is a Hung Jury?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | May 21, 2018 | Hung Jury

Last year a jury could not agree about whether or not Bill Cosby was guilty of sexual assault. Earlier this year, a second jury had little trouble finding him guilty on all counts. How, though, could Cosby be tried a second time for the same crime? Doesn’t double jeopardy protect defendants from situations like this? Since Cosby’s first trial resulted in a hung jury, double jeopardy does not apply. In fact, it’s as if the first trial never even happened, at all.

What happens if your Los Angeles criminal trial results in a hung jury? Our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers explain what you can expect.

Jury Trials in California

In California, criminal defendants are entitled to be tried by a jury of their peers. At trial, the state prosecutor and defense each have the opportunity to present arguments, testimony, and evidence to the jury for consideration. Once both sides have exhausted their arguments the jury is instructed to determine whether or not the defendant is guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury must be in unanimous agreement about their decision. In other words, all 12 jurors must agree that a defendant is either guilty or not guilty. Judges will generally require jurors to deliberate for as long as it takes for them to agree on the outcome of the case. However, there will be times when it becomes clear that the jury will not be able to come to a unanimous decision. The result? A hung jury.

Understanding the Effect of a Hung Jury

When there is a hung jury, the judge presiding over the criminal matter will declare a mistrial. A mistrial reflects the fact that the trial was inconclusive and the matter has not been resolved. As a result, the trial is treated as if it never even happened. Since the trial is, in effect, void, double jeopardy does not apply. Double jeopardy protections are only triggered when a criminal matter has some sort of finality.

The state has three options after a trial results in a hung jury. The first is the try the case again, the second is to negotiate a plea, and the third is to dismiss the charges.

Try the Case Again

The state has the option to try the case again in front of an entirely new jury. Many times, the state will have learned where its case was strongest (and weakest) and adjust its strategy accordingly for the second trial. The finding in the second trial will be binding.

Negotiate a Plea

Sometimes the state will be certain that the defendant is guilty but not so sure that a second trial will result in a conviction. If this is the case, the state may try to negotiate a plea deal with the defense. A plea agreement is essentially a compromise between the state and the defense. The state offers to reduce the charges and/or penalties in exchange for a guilty plea from the defendant. This can save time, money, and resources that would otherwise be spent on a new trial.

Dismiss the Charges

Sometimes the state will not want to spend additional resources on trying a criminal matter for a second time, especially for relatively minor misdemeanor offenses. After a mistrial is declared, the state has the option of dismissing the charges against the defendant. Charges can be dismissed with prejudice (meaning that the matter cannot be prosecuted again) or without prejudice (meaning that the matter can be prosecuted again). It is always best when charges are dismissed with prejudice.

Need More Info?

Are you facing criminal charges in Los Angeles? Did your first trial result in a hung jury? Contact the Rodriguez Law Group for help. Our team of experienced Los Angeles criminal lawyers can fight to protect your future.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.