A quick thought about the hung jury

So, most of you will now be aware that the jurors in the Urewera 4 trial were unable to come to a unanimous or majority verdict over the charge of being involved in organised criminal activity. This means that neither the Crown showed, beyond reasonable doubt, that the 4 were part of a criminal group and the Defense failed to undermine the Crown’s case. There is very little else we can say at this stage; given that we don’t know how the jurors reasoned or how the jury was divided, it’s important not to jump to interesting but unsupported (by the evidence) conclusions.

Of course, we can say that the Crown, in some sense, failed to persuade 10 jurors good and true to accept that the Urewera 4 were part of an organised criminal group, and that’s a relatively good outcome for the defendants (although I was really hoping we might get a “Not Guilty” verdict, so it’s not an ideal outcome, to my mind) but it does mean we are going to get a lot of speculation as to whether we can truly say this is really a de facto “Not Guilty” verdict and what the Crown should do next.

Consider this: a majority verdict in this case would have required 10 out of the 11 jurors to agree on a verdict. So, we can assume that at least 2 jurors dissented from the majority. This means 9 jurors might have believed that the Crown showed, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Urewera 4 were part of a criminal group, or it might mean that the Defense showed there was reasonable doubt and 9 jurors felt they should say “Not guilty” but there were two dissenting voices. Not knowing which of these two stories is the more plausible, we can’t then go on and say “The Crown failed!” or “Good work, pro bono defense lawyers!”

Of course, it might be that the jury was split 5/6 or 4/7 or whatever. Each ratio changes the kind of story we might tell from “The Crown’s case was pretty good [9 jurors were persuaded!]” to “The Crown’s case was okay… [Only a bare majority were persuaded!]”

Another case, of course, is that we might have 3 kinds of jurors; those who accept the Crown showed beyond reasonable doubt, those who thought the Crown failed to show beyond reasonable doubt and those who weren’t persuaded either way. So it might be a 3/4/4 split between those jurors who were convinced by the Crown’s case, those who were persuaded by the Defense case and those who don’t know. Suddenly, in this possible version of events, the Crown and the Defense did badly.

Change the ratios, change the result. This, arguably, is why majority (and I’m thinking all the jurors here) verdicts are instrumentally useful as well as epistemically good (and possibly just).

So, all things considered, without inside information about how the jurors felt about that aspect of the case, it’s hard to know what to infer from the fact there was a hung jury with respect to the charge of organised criminal activity. Whilst the defendants have not been found guilty of such a charge, they also weren’t found not guilty. The Crown will be mulling its case and wondering whether another jury might come to a different conclusion.