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Majority Jury Verdicts in Criminal Trials

NCJ Number
Mary Westcott
Date Published
February 2006
26 pages
This report reviews the history of unanimous verdicts in criminal trials and presents arguments supporting both unanimous verdicts and majority verdicts.
A number of Australian jurisdictions, including South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria, have begun allowing majority verdicts in some criminal trials in lieu of a unanimous verdict. England, Wales, and Scotland have allowed majority verdicts for a number of years and legislation is being considered in New South Wales, Queensland, and New Zealand to allow majority verdicts in some or all criminal trials. The history of unanimous verdicts, which have previously been required in all criminal trials, dates back to 1367. Several arguments have been put forth in favor of forgoing a unanimous jury decision in favor of a majority jury decision in criminal trials. Those who support the use of majority verdicts point out that majority jury decisions can reduce the number of hung juries; reduce problems created by “rogue” jurors; reduce the chances of jurors being bribed or intimidated; and cut down on the use of compromise verdicts. On the other hand, some proponents still favor the requirement of a unanimous verdict because there is less risk of convicting innocent persons; it is a fundamental feature of a jury trial; and it leads to better jury deliberations. Moreover, proponents of unanimous verdicts point out that disagreement in a jury is not unreasonable. The specific jury requirements in Australia, New Zealand, England and Wales, and Scotland are briefly reviewed and their potential use of majority verdicts in criminal trials is considered. Footnotes, appendixes