"12 Angry Men" -- did a guilty man go free?

Just saw this movie for the first time on FLIX, and I couldn’t help but think about O.J. Simpson, Lorraine Bobbit, and all those other real-life cases where a jury returned a “not guilty” verdict despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary. It didn’t help that Henry Fonda supported his initial N.G. vote by saying, “I dunno, I just think we should talk about it first,” and a lot of the evidence they came up with seem rather speculative.

For instance, the glasses. Juror #3 had an excellent point – how do they know the witness didn’t wear reading glasses, or sunglasses, or any type of glasses at all? It sounded like a question that should have been asked in court (and I was beginning to wonder if the kid had Lionel Hutz for a defense attorney…) Probably no way to find out except declare a mistrial and start over, but if that’s what it takes, so be it.

And, the knife. Sure, Fonda proved that the knife wasn’t all that rare, but it still seems like too much of a coincidence given that the accused DID own a knife of that type (and claims it fell through a hole in a pocket…yeah, right.) The whole business about how he would have stabbed his father was totally pointless.

But what’s most damning is the kid’s sucky alibi – he claims he was at the movies, but DOESN’T REMEMBER WHAT MOVIE HE SAW!! Maybe things were different in the 50’s, but I know what movie I’m going to see before I even watch it, no matter how badly it sucks!

And I definitely would have waited an extra hour to get a free dinner on the government’s tab. :slight_smile:

So, what do you guys think? Was justice served, or was it a case of jury nullification?

It’s been a while since I last saw it, but wasn’t Fonda’s argument that because the kid knows how to fight with a knife, he would have held it underhand, rather than overhand, as an ‘amateur’ would (and as whoever killed the victim had done)? From what I later learned, the proper way to hold a knife in a fight is overhand, since it lets you hit with a natural punching motion and prevents your opponent from grabbing your wrist.

Maybe the kid’s innocent, but I wouldn’t accept that argument. Or his excuse that he just forgot what movie he saw.

AFAICR it was the prosecutor or the witness that made the unhanded maneuver of pretending she did not wear glasses. The marks of the glasses “feet” over the nose of the witness, were noted by some of the jurors (sunglasses that have those feet are rare). She reported that she was tossing and turning on her bed when the crime occurred, not enough time to put glasses on. It was that (apparent) low blow (of the prosecution?), of trying to hide the use of eyewear, that made the jurors doubt what the witness told she saw.

Not pointless, it made some jurors doubt.

He could have been distracted with the argument that he just had with his father. And one of the jurors that was voting guilty, confessed that he forgot the name and actors of a movie he saw 3 days ago, seeding more doubts in the rest of the jurors.
I’m suspecting the generation gap is indeed affecting your conclusion here: because I like entertainment history, I remember that in the year the movie is set, that that was still an era of movie serials and B movies. Very cheap theaters, with truly forgettable movies, were a common sight. No HBO then.
It was a cumulative “Reasonable doubt” that compelled, even the ones that were leaning to vote guilty, to give a verdict of not guilty in the end.

In the play, the woman witness wore glasses on the stand, IIRC. I never saw the film but I understand it was different? Like they could tell she wore glasses without seeing them? I also don’t remember the kid’s alibi…

Anyway, I guess I never really got the point of the story. However, I think it’s an important part of the justice system that it doesn’t matter how guilty a guy really is, if the prosecution doesn’t make its case, he’s supposed to be found not guilty. I think this point is better made if we assume he is guilty and the prosecution just made a shoddy case. I suppose you can think of it as a flaw in the system, as justice not being served, if you don’t look at the bigger picture.

And that’s just it, IMHO. You don’t need to be convinced that he’s innocent to vote not guilty. You just have to fail to be convinced that he’s guilty.

Actually, it was Klugman’s argument. His character was a that of a man who had seen a lot of knife fights in his youth.

“12 Angry Men” is one of my favorite movies, Henry Fonda playing the stereotypical Henry Fonda. I believe the only point that didn’t ring true was the discussion about the switchblade knife. Just because it’s easier and quicker to open and thrust UPWARD, didn’t mean the kid didn’t take the few seconds to change its position and actually kill his father. The eyeglasses thing was another matter. If I’d been on that jury, once it was pointed out about the marks on the nose, and only glasses could make those marks, the kid would’ve gotten a “not guilty” outta’ me. The same with the old man getting out of bed, walking to his front door, and just being able to see the kid fly down the stairs. There was just too much reasonable doubt to have honestly submitted any other verdict. Was the kid guilty? Kinda’ doesn’t matter, and I don’t believe he was. ‘Twelve good men, and true’ said no. At that point the kid had the mantle of innocence placed on his shoulders. Ain’t American justice grand?

Did a guilty man go free? Yes. No one was convicted of the crime, therefore the guilty man went free (whether it was the son or someone else).

I’ve never seen Twelve Angry Men, so the fact of the “not guilty” verdict is a spoiler for me, but no biggie. Go ahead and spoil it a little more. Tell me why the twelve men are so angry.

Is it because they weren’t able to get out of jury duty?

Kind of. Most of them were convinced the kid was guilty, so they figured they’d get to go home without a lot of deliberating. But Henry Fonda’s character thinks there is room for reasonable doubt, and refuses to make the verdict unanimous. So the other men are angry because they don’t get to go home…if memory serves, they were also missing a big baseball game or something.

The guilt or innocence of the defendant is really secondary to the story in my opinion. The film shows how 12 disparate individuals (by mid 1950s standards since they’re all white males) are forced into a situation that none of them want to be on and have to decide an extremely important issue (whether or not to send someone to jail for the rest of his life).

At first Fonda appears to be the only one who takes the job seriously, but the film shows how everyone begins to realize the enormous responsibility they were given, with the exception of one juror (played by Lee J. Cobb) who is just reliving his own troubled relationship with his son.

And at the end, all 12 men go their separate ways and likely never see each other again.

Such is how the criminal justice system works in America.

#7 on the Top Ten list of Lost Movies, filmed, briefly released, then pulled and shelved and never seen again: One Angry Kid, in which the acquitted defendant kidnaps Henry Fonda on the way out of the courthouse, ties him up in a basement, and tortures him with a switchblade. Underhand. :wink:

As far as the movie alibi, things were different in the fifties. Before television in the home was common, people went to the movies with less reason, hell, who else remember the signs “It’s cool inside”? People would go the the movies just for the climate control. You didn’t go to a specific movie so much as to the movies.

Multiple features showed continuously, and people wandered in and out without regard to the start times, so much so that in 1960 Psycho director Alfred Hitchcock had to make a point that no one would be seated after the start of the movie.

I think it would be reasonable that someone might forget what movie they saw under those conditions. Just yesterday I flew from Frankfurt to Cincinnati and couldn’t remember one of the movies I saw until prompted by a reference on IMDB.com.

As I recall, in the play, there’s a scene at the end (after the verdict) where one of the other jurors asks Juror #4 (the one who convinced the others, played by Mr. Fonda) who he thought actually did it. He says that he thinks that the defendant probably was guilty… But he’s not sure. Which is the whole point. In the American justice system, “I think he probably did it” isn’t enough, or at least, it isn’t supposed to be.

And the movie may have had twelve white males, but the play doesn’t say anything about ethnicities, and only refers to gender in as far as pronouns make it necessary. The characters are so nonspecific that they don’t even have names. It would be perfectly reasonable (and I think more in line with the playwright’s intentions) to present it with a diverse cast.

Yes, IIRC, Number Eleven was “foreign”.

Henry Fonda was Juror #8 in the film. He has a last name, Davis, which he reveals at the end to Juror #9, Mr. McCardle (the old man).

Juror #11 is “the foreigner” whose sense of civic duty overcomes him and he lectures Juror #7 (Jack Warden) that he can’t just vote “not guilty” so he can get to the baseball game on time.

Wasn’t anyone bothered by Fonda’s juror misconduct? Nice little secondary investigation he had going there.

Also, weren’t they going on facts not in evidence?

And though I am a lawyer, I have not done any criminal work, but if I remember correctly, doesn’t a mistrial in a criminal case mean that you cannot retry the defendent under the double jeopardy clause of the Const.

I know you can obviously retry a hung jury, but can you retry a mistrial.

Funny thing, I rented the video last weekend, and my wife and I were talking about the same thing.

How do they know that the woman wasn’t wearing glasses to read, since she was having trouble sleeping? The kid claimed (or Henry Fonda claimed) that he didn’t remember anything about the movie because he was so upset his father hit him. Earlier, Fonda claimed that being hit by his father was so common in the kid’s life that it was not sufficient motive for stabbing. Was it common enough to pass, or unusual enough that it would make him stab his father and forget the movie?

The time line is wrong. And yes, they were arguing facts not in evidence. I would have requested a mistrial, since Henry Fonda is wandering around collecting evidence.


A hung jury is a form of mistrial.

It depends on the reason for the mistrial. If the mistrial occurs on the motion of the defense, and was not necessitated by misconduct on the prosecution’s part, then jeopardy is waived.

If the mistrial occurs on the prosecution’s motion, and was not the result of manifest necessity, then jeopardy prevents a retrial.

A mistrial resulting from a hung jury does not bar a new trial.

  • Rick

“Double jeopardy” is when someone is tried for something, walks, and is tried again for the same crime.