Allen v. United States (1896)

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Allen v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Submitted October 23, 1896
Decided December 7, 1896
Full case name Allen v. United States
Citations 164 U.S. 492 (more)
17 S. Ct. 154; 41 L. Ed. 528
Prior history Error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Arkansas
Holding
There is no error in a jury instruction encouraging dissenting jurors to reconsider
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Brown, joined by unanimous

Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492 (1896), was a United States Supreme Court case that, amongst other things, approved the use of a jury instruction intended to prevent a hung jury by encouraging jurors in the minority to reconsider. The Court affirmed Allen's murder conviction, after having vacated his two prior convictions for the same crime.[1]

Such an instruction became known as an Allen charge and is given when, after deliberation, a jury reports that it is deadlocked and unable to decide on a verdict. Because it is used to dislodge jurors from entrenched positions, the Allen charge is sometimes referred to as the "dynamite charge" or "hammer charge."

Allen's holding is based upon the Supreme Court's supervisory power over the federal courts. Thus, it is not binding on state courts. Approximately half of the U.S. states prohibit Allen charges on state law grounds.[2]

Background[edit]

Allen's three trials had been presided over by Judge Isaac Parker of the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.

Opinion[edit]

The relevant portion of Allen held:

The seventeenth and eighteenth assignments were taken to instructions given to the jury after the main charge was delivered, and when the jury had returned to the court, apparently for further instructions. These instructions were quite lengthy, and were, in substance, that in a large proportion of cases absolute certainty could not be expected; that, although the verdict must be the verdict of each individual juror, and not a mere acquiescence in the conclusion of his fellows, yet they should examine the question submitted with candor, and with a proper regard and deference to the opinions of each other; that it was their duty to decide the case if they could conscientiously do so; that they should listen, with a disposition to be convinced, to each other's arguments; that, if much the larger number were for conviction, a dissenting juror should consider whether his doubt was a reasonable one which made no impression upon the minds of so many men, equally honest, equally intelligent with himself. If, upon the other hand, the majority were for acquittal, the minority ought to ask themselves whether they might not reasonably doubt the correctness of a judgment which was not concurred in by the majority. These instructions were taken literally from a charge in a criminal case which was approved of by the supreme court of Massachusetts and by the supreme court of Connecticut.
While, undoubtedly, the verdict of the jury should represent the opinion of each individual juror, it by no means follows that opinions may not be changed by conference in the jury room. The very object of the jury system is to secure unanimity by a comparison of views, and by arguments among the jurors themselves. It certainly cannot be the law that each juror should not listen with deference to the arguments, and with a distrust of his own judgment, if he finds a large majority of the jury taking a different view of the case from what he does himself. It cannot be that each juror should go to the jury room with a blind determination that the verdict shall represent his opinion of the case at that moment, or that he should close his ears to the arguments of men who are equally honest and intelligent as himself. There was no error in these instructions.[3]

Text of Allen charge[edit]

Text of the Allen charge as approved for use in the United States district courts of the Fifth Circuit:

"Members of the Jury:

I'm going to ask that you continue your deliberations in an effort to reach agreement upon a verdict and dispose of this case; and I have a few additional comments I would like for you to consider as you do so.

This is an important case. The trial has been expensive in time, effort, money and emotional strain to both the defense and the prosecution. If you should fail to agree upon a verdict, the case will be left open and may have to be tried again. Obviously, another trial would only serve to increase the cost to both sides, and there is no reason to believe that the case can be tried again by either side any better or more exhaustively than it has been tried before you.

Any future jury must be selected in the same manner and from the same source as you were chosen, and there is no reason to believe that the case could ever be submitted to twelve men and women more conscientious, more impartial, or more competent to decide it, or that more or clearer evidence could be produced.

If a substantial majority of your number are in favor of a conviction, those of you who disagree should reconsider whether your doubt is a reasonable one since it appears to make no effective impression upon the minds of the others. On the other hand, if a majority or even a lesser number of you are in favor of an acquittal, the rest of you should ask yourselves again, and most thoughtfully, whether you should accept the weight and sufficiency of evidence which fails to convince your fellow jurors beyond a reasonable doubt.

Remember at all times that no juror is expected to give up an honest belief he or she may have as to the weight or effect of the evidence; but, after full deliberation and consideration of the evidence in the case, it is your duty to agree upon a verdict if you can do so.

You must also remember that if the evidence in the case fails to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt the Defendant should have your unanimous verdict of Not Guilty.

You may be as leisurely in your deliberations as the occasion may require and should take all the time which you may feel is necessary.

I will ask now that you retire once again and continue your deliberations with these additional comments in mind to be applied, of course, in conjunction with all of the other instructions I have previously given to you."[4]

In state courts[edit]

Allen charges have been rejected, in whole or in part, by at least twenty-three states. Twenty-two states have rejected the charge by judicial decision: Alaska,[5] Arizona,[6] California,[7] Colorado,[8] Hawaii,[9] Idaho,[10] Louisiana,[11] Maine,[12] Michigan,[13] Minnesota,[14] Montana,[15] Nebraska,[16] Nevada,[17] New Hampshire,[18] New Mexico,[19] North Dakota,[20] Ohio,[21] Oregon,[22] Pennsylvania,[23] Rhode Island,[24] Tennessee,[25] Wisconsin,[26] and Wyoming.[27] Additionally, Kentucky has eliminated the Allen charge through its rules of criminal procedure.[28]

Similar terms[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Allen v. United States, 157 U.S. 675 (1895); Allen v. United States, 150 U.S. 551 (1893).
  2. ^ See, e.g., Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3 (2002) (noting California's rejection of Allen).
  3. ^ Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492, 501–02 (1896) (citations omitted).
  4. ^ 5th Circuit Pattern Criminal Jury Instructions, 1.45.
  5. ^ Fields v. State, 487 P.2d 831 (Alaska 1971).
  6. ^ State v. Thomas, 342 P.2d 197 (Ariz. 1959).
  7. ^ People v. Gainer, 566 P.2d 997 (Cal. 1977).
  8. ^ Taylor v. People, 490 P.2d 292 (Colo. 1971).
  9. ^ State v. Fajardo, 699 P.2d 20 (Haw. 1985).
  10. ^ State v. Brown, 487 P.2d 946 (Idaho 1971).
  11. ^ State v. Nicholson, 315 So. 2d 639 (La .1975).
  12. ^ State v. White 285 A.2d 832 (Me. 1972).
  13. ^ People v. Sullivan, 220 N.W.2d 441 (Mich. 1974).
  14. ^ State v. Martin, 211 N.W.2d 765 (Minn. 1973).
  15. ^ State v. Randall, 353 P.2d 1054 (Mont. 1960).
  16. ^ State v. Garza, 176 N.W.2d 664 (Neb. 1970); Potard v. State, 299 N.W. 362 (Neb. 1941).
  17. ^ Azbill v. State, 495 P.2d 1064 (Nev. 1972).
  18. ^ State v. Blake, 305 A.2d 300 (N.H. 1973).
  19. ^ State v. Minns, 454 P.2d 355 (N.M. 1969).
  20. ^ State v. Champagne, 198 N.W.2d 218 (N.D.1972).
  21. ^ State v. Howard, 537 N.E.2d 188 (Ohio 1989).
  22. ^ State v. Marsh, 490 P.2d 491 (Or. 1971).
  23. ^ Commonwealth v. Spencer, 275 A.2d 299 (Pa. 1971).
  24. ^ State v. Patriarca, 308 A.2d 300 (R.I. 1973).
  25. ^ Kersey v. State, 525 S.W.2d 139 (Tenn. 1975).
  26. ^ Kelley v. State, 187 N.W.2d 810 (Wis. 1971).
  27. ^ Elmer v. State 463 P.2d 14 (Wyo. 1969).
  28. ^ Ky. R. Crim. P. 9.57. See Iseral v. Commonwealth, 2003 WL 22227193 (Ky. 2003); Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 943 S.W.2d 625 (Ky. 1997).

Further reading[edit]

  • Mark M. Lanier & Cloud Miller III, The Allen Charge: Expedient Justice or Coercion?, 25 Am. J. Crim. Justice 31 (2000).