Hung Jury in Cosby Trial Is Rare for a Psychological Reason

A deadlocked jury following a dynamite charge does not happen often.

Getty Images / Kevin Hagen

On Saturday, the judge presiding over Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial finally declared a mistrial after jurors in Norristown, Pennsylvania, had remained deadlocked after nearly a week.

Deliberations had been going on since Monday, sometimes for as long as 12 hours a day. On Thursday, jurors had already returned to Judge Steve T. O’Neill, stating that they couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict. O’Neill had refused the notion of a mistrial, ordering jurors back to deliberations in what is known as a “dynamite charge.”

It’s unknown if a majority or jurors were leaning one way or another, but it’s really rare for a jury to not come to a decision following a dynamite charge — that’s basically why it exists.

Because a hung jury prolongs the judicial process (at the cost of tax payers) through appeals and a new trial, there’s a lot of effort to avoid them. Writing about the dynamite charge in Monitor on Psychology, Dr. Monica K. Miller of the University of Nevada-Reno and Dr. Brian H. Bornstein of University of Nebraska-Lincoln reveal that hung juries only occur in about 6 percent of cases. Research suggests that the rarity is due to a minority juror’s tendency to give into the majority opinion following a dynamite charge — but not necessarily because they genuinely share the viewpoint of the majority.

In a high-profile trial such as Cosby’s, there is already an enormous pressure on jurors. The case would decide in the eyes of the nation whether or not a well-known and once-loved celebrity is in fact a serial rapist. It’s pretty heavy, to say the least. Research suggests that following a dynamite charge, jurors who hold the minority opinion will likely conform to the majority. Often, because they are tired, feeling the pressure of a trial using up even more of their time, and because they are affected by the decision of the judge to force them back to deliberations, a minority juror will tend to give in.

Although the Cosby defence has beaten the odds thus far, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office immediately announced in court and then on Twitter that they intend to retry the case with a new jury.

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