Name calling. Fist waving. Yelling. Sound like a bar fight?
No -- just evidence of a jury stuck in dysfunctional deliberations. When one juror disagrees with the other 11, the closed-door discussion can break down into shouting matches and personal attacks on the lone holdout.
Holdouts have long been studied by lawyers and law professors, who are keenly aware that just one dissenting juror can lead to a mistrial. Attorneys frequently hire consultants to gauge prospective jurors' personalities in an attempt to predict how they will evaluate cases. Judges watch out for potential jurors who may have personal biases or agendas. After mistrials, consultants question holdout jurors to learn more about them.
Courts are also struggling with the issue of holdout jurors. A federal appellate court recently ruled that a judge violated the constitutional rights of a defendant in a South Los Angeles murder case by removing a holdout juror during deliberations. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the defendant was entitled to a new trial, saying the juror was simply doing her job by independently assessing the evidence.
Another holdout got even more attention. A New York judge declared a mistrial in April in the grand-larceny case against two former Tyco International Ltd. executives, saying that there had been pressure placed on one of the jurors. The holdout juror, Ruth Jordan, reportedly received a threatening letter after her identity was revealed.
Although hung juries are uncommon and 11-1 deadlocks rare, lone holdouts often capture the attention of the public and the media. A stand-alone vote is seen by some as a miscarriage of justice and by others as evidence that the justice system is working exactly as it should.
Rarely does the lone holdout manage to sway his fellow jurors like Henry Fonda did in the motion picture "Twelve Angry Men." Instead, the 12th juror often cracks from the overwhelming stress and changes sides, sometimes just so the trial will end.
"You really have to have chutzpah," said Karen Fleming-Ginn, a jury consultant based in Northern California. "Imagine yourself in a room with 11 angry people. Holding your ground would be difficult."
Holdouts who don't give in often frustrate their fellow jurors and leave them feeling as though the system failed.
Take the Orange County case of Jeffrey West, charged with child endangerment after accidentally firing a shotgun at his 8-year-old daughter. He was sitting on the edge of the bathtub loading and unloading his shotgun when it accidentally discharged. The girl lost a kidney and part of her arm.
After a weeklong trial in October, the jurors deliberated for more than a day before splitting 11 to 1 in favor of acquittal. The holdout juror, who could not be reached, said at the time that he felt pressured by other jurors to change his mind but stuck with the law as he read it and voted his conscience. He said he believed West was guilty for taking a gun into the bathroom while the girl was there.
Juror Douglas Moore, who voted to acquit, said the jurors were more evenly split at the start of deliberations. Then they started going through the evidence and the law and more jurors concluded that West's behavior did not rise to the level of a felony crime.
When it came down to everyone against the foreman, Moore said he and his fellow jurors took turns trying to convince the 12th juror, yelling at times. The once amicable deliberations quickly turned contentious. They couldn't break the impasse.
They wrote a note saying that the lone holdout was uncooperative and irrational, but never submitted it to the judge. They thought they would be overstepping their bounds by doing so.
The district attorney's office refiled the case and West is waiting to go to trial a second time.
Holdouts, however, see cases from entirely different perspectives.
One Michigan holdout said that being the only not-guilty vote in a murder solicitation case was traumatizing. Attorneys selected the 60-year-old psychologist to sit on a panel in the 2002 case against Eric John Keane, an inmate from Ferrysburg, Mich., charged with attempting to hire a hit man to kill his former girlfriend and her young daughter. The case ended in a mistrial with a vote of 11 to 1 for conviction.
"This has had a big impact on my life," said the 12th juror, also the foreman, who asked to remain anonymous. "It never went away."
The holdout, who is married and has two grown children, said he took his duty seriously. He took notes and listened closely to the evidence and the instructions during the two-day trial. Though the other jurors were respectful during the two days of deliberations, the holdout said he felt tremendous pressure to conform to their opinion.
He knew the rest of the panel was anxious and wanted to go home, as did he, but he said he could not in good conscience vote to convict. Prosecutors failed to convince him beyond a reasonable doubt that Keane had the intent to solicit the murders, he said.