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Criminal Procedure: Antideadlock Jury Instructions in the District of Columbia

NCJ Number
Catholic University Law Review Volume: 35 Issue: 4 Dated: (Summer 1986) Pages: 1179-1191
M M Barasch
Date Published
13 pages
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled appropriately in Epperson v. United States when it reversed the trial court's findings and held that it was coercive for a trial judge twice to confront a genuinely hung jury with antideadlock instructions.
It is appropriate for a judge to try to prod juries to reach verdicts, but judges must use care so as not to exceed the allowable degree of coercion. The supplemental instructions that trial judges use today to induce jurors to reach verdicts are sometimes coercive. Over the last 15 years, the D.C. Court of Appeals has gradually placed stricter controls on coercive deadlocked jury instructions imposed by the trial judge. The 1984 Epperson case involved two jury instructions, which the appellate court viewed as going over the boundary from moderation to coercion. The court made it clear that the ruling applied only to genuinely hung juries. It did not apply the Epperson decision to other decisions, in which the first antideadlock instruction was given before the jury began any deliberations. The Epperson decision was sound and will prevent inefficient and difficult attempts to evaluate the effects of two antideadlock instructions without a per se rule. The court rightly concluded that ensuring that jurors maintain their conscientious views is far superior to having jurors change their opinions. 82 footnotes.