By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
As the second penalty-phase trial for Jodi Arias ended last week with a hung jury and a mistrial, the word from the jury, 11 of 12 of them, was frustration. "We feel like we failed," one said to ABC15, and the group issued an apology to the family of murder victim Travis Alexander. A hung jury may be a loss or a win. In this case, it's a win for the Defense, since Arias' life will now be spared and the sentence -- life, with or without the possibility of parole -- falls to the judge. More broadly, though, a hung jury is often seen by society as a loss for the system as a whole. The reaction on social media, for example, was swift and predictable. "The justice system failed" was a common critique, as many in Arizona and around the country took to Twitter and Facebook to criticize the judge, the holdout juror, the prosecution, as well as the capacity for jurors to deliver this kind of punishment.
Despite the response in this case, hung juries are not the sign of a broken jury system. Cases can hang for good reasons and, in many cases, a mistrial doesn't necessarily mean that justice has been denied. Given that the death penalty -- as Jeffrey Toobin pointed out to Nancy Grace -- is about the most imperfect method of delivering justice imaginable, the result can also be viewed as an instance of the system working. Capital punishment, if it should exist at all, should carry a very high burden on the state. If the prosecution, even after "death qualifying" the jury and presenting its case, still fails to convince each and every juror, then a non-answer can be the right answer. On the day of the verdict, I was interviewed by ABC15 in Phoenix and made a few comments in that vein. The video is included below, and for this post, I want to add a some additional context to expand on those thoughts.