Court: Judge can’t order jury to reach a verdict

Maybe you’ve seen the TV crime episode when a jury is hopelessly deadlocked but the judge tells them they have to reach a verdict.

A judge’s instruction to them might sound like this:

Members of the jury, I received your note from . . . your foreperson. “We have reached an impasse, how should we continue.” I have discussed that with counsel as well as Mr. Olsen. How should you continue? You should continue. I don’t believe you have deliberated long enough and I’m going to send you back to continue your deliberations reminding you of the instructions I gave you. And I’ll remind you once again you are the finders of fact. There are twelve of you and you are to make a decision on this. It’s what I have discussed with counsel, and this is being done with their approval as well but it’s ultimately my call. Back to the room. If you go into the noon hour give us a half hour, forty five minutes to get you something to eat.

What you don’t see on TV is a Court of Appeals overturning a conviction because of those instructions.

It happened today in Minnesota when the Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of a Chaska man, who was charged with sexually assaulting his girlfriend’s child.

In September 2011, a jury convicted the man, just a few hours after the judge told them they had to reach a verdict.

“A hung jury is a legitimate outcome to a trial,” the court said today. “Telling a jury that it must reach a verdict may cause jurors holding a minority viewpoint to surrender their honest beliefs in order to reach a unanimous verdict.”

Travis Olsen will get a new trial.

Here’s the full opinion.

  • BJ

    Wow. In 1999 I was foreman on a jury for a kidnapping case and this happened. After the about 4-6 hours total (2nd day around 2 PM – a Friday) we asked, we went back and went 2 more days (Monday and Tuesday the next week). Not Guilty was our call.

    I don’t think they will have a retrial in that case.

  • BJ

    Another comment on my experience in a Jury. As a Jury we really didn’t know what to do. Like how we could look at the evidence again, we could. Or have transcripts brought in, we couldn’t – if I recall – only our notes. We didn’t know how long something like this should take. I do know that after the instructions, to go back, we, only then, went into what the charges were and the evidence and our notes.

    What we had done before asking about deadlock was superficial, but it didn’t seem like it when we asked.