Saturday, November 13, 2010
When jurors are presented with a menu of criminal verdict options and they cannot reach a consensus among them, what should they do? Available evidence suggests they are prone to compromise – that is, jurors will negotiate with each other and settle on a verdict in the middle, often on a lesser-included offense. The suggestion that jurors compromise is not new; it is supported by empirical evidence, well-accepted by courts and commentators, and unsurprising given the pressure jurors feel to reach agreement and the different individual views they likely hold. There are, however, some who say intrajury negotiation represents a failure of the jury process. Conventional wisdom clings to the notion that criminal verdicts reflect a jury’s unanimous factual assessment. That notion is thwarted when a juror votes for a verdict as a compromise, as a second choice to the one he thinks best reflects reality. To date, therefore, compromise verdicts are typically dismissed as examples of maverick jurors dishonoring their oath to apply the law and seek the truth.
This article challenges that conventional wisdom by way of a new analogy. If jurors each view the case differently and nonetheless negotiate with each other to reach a deal, why is that wrong when 95% of criminal convictions are the result of a similar process? I seek a new understanding of compromise verdicts by making a novel comparison to plea bargaining. I argue that the former should be understood in the context of the latter, and that the best way to evaluate intrajury negotiation is to juxtapose it with the negotiation that dominates our criminal justice system. Instead of dismissing intrajury negotiation as illegitimate, I argue that we should accept it as a reality and from there seek to improve it with lessons drawn from plea negotiations.