Why Are Jury Decisions Unanimous?

The question comes to mind why are jury decisions unanimous? I mean, not even SCOTUS decisions are unanimous. Shouldn’t it be simple majority or 2/3rd or something? Why not? I wonder how many hung jury decisions may have gone differently if this were the case.

The majority opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch traced the requirement back to English common law. He said the nation’s founders believed verdicts must be unanimous and noted that the Supreme Court recognized the requirement as early as 1898.

Fair enough, but I tend to agree with the OP. Otherwise all it takes is 1 person with an agenda to mess up a clear-and-cut case. I sat with one during a grand jury stint, and thankfully those didn’t require a unanimous vote.

My opinion is that a vote over 80% should be required, and also that jurors shouldn’t be allowed to confer or even interact with each other. Each juror should arrive at their own independent decision, as this would be eliminate the ability for some jurors to influence others, whether intended or not.

Why don’t you want jurors to influence each other? There’s a reason that it matters to have diverse juries.

Also, having nonunanimous juries was pretty much put in place to eliminate the chances of non-white people having any effect in jury decisions.

Finally, nonunanimous juries are permitted in civil cases.

Unanimity was a requirement long before African-Americans were given the courtesy of trials. As the previous post notes, it goes back to early England. If a good cross-section of the whole community did not think your action was a crime, then it was not.

Note in the “Good Old Days” there was no imprisonment. That was while waiting for trial. The state (the crown) did not provide criminals with food and lodging for an extended period after conviction, then let them go. Punishments were pretty final. Hanging, branding, mutilation, transport overseas (G’day, mate!) and flogging were harsh penalties. Hence a fair trial, and a verdict society could agree with, were necessary to avoid the sort of discontent that could manifest itself in mob violence.

(But all was not sweetness and light. As recently as the time of William “Pennsylvania” Penn, it took an extended legal battle to create the English law principle that a judge could not demand a jury return a specific verdict, and could not imprison the jury until they complied. But note - the judge still tried to get the jury to say the verdict, he could not simply impose his own verdict. )

If that was a response to me, you’re misunderstanding. I said that Nonunanimous verdicts were put in place in order to nullify the effects of having non-whites on juries.

It is worth noting that would result in a hung jury and go back to trial (if the DA wants).

Yes, it is a hassle but it means while one juror can cause trouble one juror cannot convict/acquit on their own.

As an aside, I highly recommend watching 12 Angry Men. Not for any reason other than it is a very good movie (classic) and relevant to this thread.

I agree, and I think that by having jurors confer among each other, it puts immense peer pressure because it makes it harder for one juror who has some qualms or reservations to hold out. Eventually you get perceived as the ‘bad guy’ for stubbornly refusing to go along with consensus.

Twelve Angry Men was a heroic example of a lone standout, but most people don’t have that strength of will.

I’m curious if those who are against jurors deliberating together have ever been on a jury?

Here in Australia, I sat on a jury where the foreperson was asked:
Q. With respect to count 1, how did the jury find the defendant?
A: Guilty
Q. Is this the opinion of all 12 of you?
A. No
Q. Is this the opinion of at least 10 of you?
A. Yes

In my case, the defendant had been charged with 7 counts, so this whole process was repeated 6 more times.

I don’t know much about how my country’s judicial system works, in general, so I can offer only my anecdote about how it worked this one time 15 years ago. It is my understanding that, when it comes to sentencing, the judge will take into account the fact that the jury found him guilty, but that it was not unanimous.

Even though I was the one juror who was preventing the verdict from being unanimous, it seems to me that this is a much more sensible way to go about it. A criminal conviction (or acquittal) should never come down to the answer of a single uneducated twit.

Which good old days were these, and where? Certainly not 18th century England.

In the 18th century more than 200 offences were regarded as serious enough to be punishable by death. Serious offenders who were not hanged were transported to the colonies, an alternative form of punishment introduced by an Act of Parliament in 1718.
There was nevertheless a large prison population. There were those awaiting trial or non-custodial punishment, those actually sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and those who had not discharged their debts.
Early prisons and imprisonment - UK Parliament

My emphasis.

In the Norwegian criminal justice system the lowest court has one professional and two lay judges (or two and three for particularly tricky cases) and majority rules. In the court of appeal there are two professional and five lay judges and at least one of the professional and five out of the seven total have to vote guilty for a conviction to happen. (This is a recent change. The court of appeal used to have three professional judges and a ten person jury with a 7 out of ten minimum to convict, but the professional judges could overrules the jury and call for a retrial nearly identical to the current system.)

I think that would lead to a rather more superficial examination of the facts before the jury - debate is generally a healthy thing to be doing.
I get that in a closed room scenario, it could also lead to peer pressure, bullying, etc. Maybe the juror debate should be moderated by a couple of impartial persons with the job of keeping the process in order without expressing any influence on the subject at hand.

But jurors can pick up things other jurors don’t. Or bring up thoughts.

On the jury I was on someone pointed out that if the defendant [on trial for reckless endangerment of her children for using meth and cocaine around them] and her lawyer were so positive everyone else living at the mother’s house was doing meth why didn’t they ask for drug tests? A bunch of us corrected what someone else had understood incorrectly.

Bullying does come to mind behind closed doors. I think it behooves those who influence Judicial procedure to find ways to minimize bullying, Like, when the jury is ready to vote, the individual decisions should be by secret ballot - even if they must go into 12 separate booths, or such, The ballots should be presented to the judge and read aloud, one by one, without saying how Juror #X voted. I don’t know…maybe in group debate, it may still be obvious who is contrary to the majority’s opinion. I am hopeful that greater minds than mine may find a way.

I was on a jury on two trial. The first thing in the jury room was to elect a foreman and in the first, I was the only volunteer and in the second I was elected due to previous experience.

I started by going roundthe table for opinions, encouraging each member to elaborate on why they voted the way they did. The first jury was evenly split, so we talked through various parts of the evidence. I had notes I had taken but most didn’t so four of the six doubtfuls changed their minds when their misunderstandings were cleared up.

As the time went on, we had a message to say that the judge would accept a majority verdict if we couldn’t agree. Clearly he wanted to wind things up asap. The dissenters gave in and we returned a unanimous verdict. On the way out I asked one of the dissenters why she was determined to go against the majority. She said that she didn’t want to see the guy go to jail even though she was sure he had done ‘it’.

I’ve served on two juries, and there was no bullying at all. We had a healthy discussion, there was only minor disagreements, and we came to unanimous decisions fairly quickly. A friend was on another jury that was much more contentious and involved much more serious charges. She reported that conversations were often heated, but respectful. They convicted on some but not all of the charges.

I’m sure bullying exists in the jury room, but I think it could be less of an issue that people are making out. The jurors that I worked with all treated the process with respect. I understand that this probably isn’t universal, and just because I didn’t experience bullying doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. And minorities on juries may experience things very differently.

Certainly, and that’s one reason why I don’t like the need for a unanimous decision. I guess to me, the complexities of how groups behave is the much bigger monkey wrench. The references to bullying and peer pressure are the more obvious challenges, but so much more occurs on the subconscious side. Groups typically naturally form hierarchies, and certain folks are automatically elevated to “leader” status while others fall to “follower” status. I always think to some examples in the excellent book The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki that demonstrate the weaknesses of corporate boards and other types of groups that discuss issues. One of the prerequisites for a group to arrive at an optimal solution is complete independence of the members of the group.

I am certainly no expert on any of this, which I fully admit.

After a verdict is read, it’s permissible (and highly advisable) for the losing side to request the court to “poll the jury”, which is to ask each juror if they agreed with the verdict. If somebody was bullied, or harbors nagging reservations, this at least gives them a chance to say so.

I know they do that in legal dramas (polling the jury), but wasn’t sure if that’s necessarily a "thing,"at least in every jurisdiction. It would appear that, as of 2001, the bulk of states did allow jury polling in criminal trials, with 4 making it at the discretion of the judge, and 3 prohibiting the practice.

Link below (pdf warning):

(pdf) The Jury Poll and A Dissenting Juror: When A Juror in A Criminal Trial Disavows Their Verdict in Open Court, 35 J. Marshall L. Rev. 45 (2001) (pdf)

That said, I can’t speak for reputation of the journal. It’s just the first somewhat on point source I found that seems to answer the question I had directly. At least as things stood 20 years ago.