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Believe It or Not, a Jury Doesn't Reach a Verdict Unanimously in Every Legal Case

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Nov. 17 2021, Published 1:56 p.m. ET

For lack of better words, nothing makes headlines quite like a famous court case. In the information age, the details of what is going on inside a courtroom are relayed almost instantaneously to millions of readers worldwide. By doing this, virtually anyone is able to catch a glimpse into how the U.S. legal process works and what each person in that room's role is.

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One of the most vital aspects of a courtroom's function is its juror pool. While most people are likely aware that jurors are the group who ultimately make a decision in a court case, there's actually a bit more to serving on one than just that. So, do all jurors have to agree on a legal case? Furthermore, what happens if they can't decide, and how long do they have to deliberate? Keep reading to find out.

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Do all jurors have to agree when delivering a verdict?

It may seem to be pretty cut and dry, but the way a jury works is a bit more complicated than just delivering a "guilty" or "not guilty" verdict. First off, according to FindLaw, nearly every state requires that a jury produces a unanimous verdict in a criminal trial. That isn't the same in every state when it comes to civil trials. In that case, almost one-third of all U.S. states only require a majority for a verdict.

The aforementioned rules are completely thrown out in federal court, however, as no matter if the case is criminal or civil, it will require a unanimous decision from the jury presiding over the case. Cases only escalate to the federal level if they are of a certain level of importance or involve the breaking of federal laws.

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What happens if a jury can't decide on a verdict?

However, sometimes a jury cannot agree on something; this is called being "deadlocked" or a "hung jury." What happens at this point in time largely depends on the type of legal case and the type of trial being held. Some instances will see the jury create a list of questions for the parties to answer in a different hearing. On other occasions, the judge could very well declare a mistrial.

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If a jury is deadlocked on a charge, a person cannot be convicted of it, but they may be retried for it at a later date. It is up to the plaintiff at that point if they want to give up on pursuing the unconvicted charges or go back to court and fight for a conviction once again. The three most common scenarios after this happens are that the prosecutor decides to dismiss the unconvicted charges, they reach a plea bargain, or another trial for the same charges is scheduled in the future.

How long do jurors have to deliberate in a trial?

The short answer with regard to jury deliberations is that there isn't really a set time placed on the group to reach a decision. Taking all evidence into account alongside spirited conversations about what occurred in the courtroom, jurors can deliberate for as long or as short of a time as they need to come up with a verdict. The process could take hours, days, or even weeks, but the jury will continue to work until they've come to a decision that can be agreed upon.

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