After both sides in a trial present all of their evidence, the jury goes to a private room with all the evidence and deliberates. The jury then votes on a verdict and presents it to the court. If you've seen television shows or movies that involve the jury process, you may have noticed that, at least some of the time, the jury must be unanimous in its verdict. At the same time, you may have also wondered when unanimous verdicts are required and what happens if a verdict cannot be reached.
There are two court systems in the United States: federal and state courts. Each covers different types of cases. In the federal system, whether the trial is criminal or civil, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict.
In state courts, whether a jury needs to be unanimous depends on the state and the type of trial. For criminal trials, nearly every state requires the jury to produce a unanimous verdict.
For civil trials, almost one-third of states only require a majority for a verdict. Some states require a majority if the money at issue in the trial is below a certain amount, and a unanimous verdict all other times.
Sometimes, a jury cannot gather enough votes for one verdict. This is called a "hung jury." What happens next depends on the court and type of trial. The judge may declare a mistrial and require the parties to litigate the case before an entirely different jury. Some courts allow the jury to create a list of questions for the parties to answer in an additional hearing.
For more information on the courts and how they work, please visit FindLaw's Litigation section.
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