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date: 26 September 2017

Juries in Film and Television

Summary and Keywords

The early jury films typically portray the jury as a passive group of men who simply watch the trial with little reaction. They are meant to stand in for the viewer. The viewer, like the jury, is supposed to reach a verdict as to the defendant’s guilt or innocence. There are a few exceptions to this traditional portrayal of the jury. The exceptions involve a holdout juror who is dissatisfied with the verdict and conducts his or her own investigation. The most well known jury film, 12 Angry Men, which aired in 1957, marks a departure from these traditional and exceptional portrayals of a jury. This film is an outlier in the annals of jury films because it shows the jury at work; all the action takes place as the jury deliberates in the jury room. It also depicts an unusual scenario in which a single juror is able to stand up against the other 11 jurors and ultimately persuade them to change their votes. One reason this film has endured is that it depicts an individual’s uphill battle against a group. Another reason is that the plot has been incorporated into episodes of popular television shows so that new generations of viewers learn about it. There have been only a few modern films that focus on the jury. Some of these films return to the theme of the holdout juror who carries out a subsequent investigation to uncover the truth, whereas others show a juror who engages in misconduct or self-help in the face of a defendant who has abused the trial process. Although the focus on the holdout juror in many of these films, both old and new, provides drama, holdout jurors are hard to find in actual jury trials, especially when there are just one or two jurors who are holdouts.

Keywords: Jury films, jury trials, juries, jury deliberations, holdout juror, hung jury, juror misconduct

Early Jury Films

The Passive Jury

In early films that show a jury, the jury is usually passive. These depictions of the jury simply show 12 white men, at a distance, sitting in the jury box in the courtroom. They do not have any speaking parts throughout the course of the film. They sit as a body and simply watch the trial unfold. They do not move; they do not react; and they do not distinguish themselves from each other. They simply observe the trial and “listen[] attentively” (Clover, 1998a, p. 389). They function as a placeholder for the viewers, who are also watching the trial.

Carol Clover, a professor of film and media at Berkeley, viewed these early films and discerned this pattern of the jury as “human furniture” (Clover, 1998a, p. 390). She pointed out that the jurors are not shown individually; they are not shown moving in the courthouse; and they are not shown deliberating. In other words, these juries on film are not shown doing the work that jurors actually perform as part of their role. She explained that the jury is just sitting in the jury box because it is meant to stand in for the audience. The jury is asked to reach a judgment, just like the audience. The jury helps the audience to know the role that it is supposed to play. According to Clover, in some of these early films, such as By Whose Hand? (1916), the connection between the jury and the audience is made quite explicit: the actors look straight at the viewer when addressing the jury (Ibid.). However, in more modern movies, such as Presumed Innocent (1990), the jury still serves as a stand-in for the audience, even if the actors no longer look directly at the viewing audience or refer to viewers as jurors. There is no longer any need for such direct instruction. As Clover (1998b, p. 259) observed: “We know our place and just what our job will be even before we take our seats.”

The Dissatisfied Juror as Investigator

One early film that does not fit the pattern of the silent jury is Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder! (1930). This film, which is one of the early British sound films, is unusual because of the gender of the criminal defendant, the gender of several of the jurors, the brief showing of the jury’s deliberations, and a dissatisfied juror’s subsequent investigation of the crime.

In the film, a member of a theater company is found murdered near a fireplace. Another theater company member, named Diana Baring, is found sitting dumbstruck nearby, with blood on her dress and the murder weapon, a fireplace poker, near her feet. She has no recollection of having struck the dead woman. Nevertheless, she is taken to jail, tried and convicted for murder, and sentenced to death.

The film is unusual not only because the criminal defendant is female, but also because 3 out of the 12 jurors are female. The film is also different from others of the time because it includes a brief scene in which the jury engages in a cursory deliberation. The jury deliberation is disturbing for several reasons. The jury takes an initial vote by secret ballot, and 3 jurors vote not guilty; 2 do not submit a vote at all; and the remaining 7 vote guilty. One of the jurors who had not submitted a vote rails against the burden imposed on him, but then casts a guilty vote. The second juror who had not cast a vote seems a little slow to understand, but then also submits a guilty vote. The 3 jurors voting not guilty then explain their votes. A female juror gives a psychological explanation that if the defendant were essentially sleepwalking, she should not be held responsible for her actions. However, this juror abandons her position when another female juror points out that the defendant’s condition could lead her to harm someone else, and then the jury would be responsible. A second juror who voted not guilty, a male juror, explains that the defendant is attractive, and her appearance makes it unlikely that she committed the murder; however, the other jurors quickly challenge his view and he relents. The last juror to vote not guilty, Sir John, is articulate and confident, and it seems that he might be able to remain a holdout given his upper-class status. However, the remaining jurors surround him and barrage him with questions so that he, too, succumbs to their pressure. The jury returns a verdict of guilty, and the judge sentences the defendant to death.

Sir John, however, is a dissatisfied juror, and he spends the rest of the film undertaking his own investigation of the crime. He is an actor and a playwright, and familiar with the world of the theater due to his profession. Sir John engages the theater company’s manager to help him in his investigation. They visit the residence where the murder occurred, interview witnesses who had testified, and try to figure out the motive for the murder. In the end, Sir John discovers the man who is the likely murderer; he is another member of the theater company. Sir John has him read for a part in a play that he has written about the murder. The play, which was merely intended as a trap, leads the man to confront his role as the murderer; in the end, he kills himself and leaves a suicide note exonerating the defendant.

Sir John, in his role as investigator, is able to solve the murder in a way that he was unable to do as a juror. All those involved in the murder case, including the police, the prosecutor, the witnesses, the judge, and the jurors, looked at the circumstantial evidence and assumed the guilt of Diana Baring. However, Sir John, drawing on his insights as a playwright, was able to examine the murder more deeply until he found an answer that made sense in terms of the evidence and how human beings behave. In his role as juror, he was required to make a judgment based on only limited evidence and in a brief amount of time. He had been forced to reach a verdict, surrounded by his fellow jurors, who berated him until he acquiesced to a vote of guilty. It was only when he was able to leave the confines of the jury room and assume the role of independent investigator that he could solve the crime and establish that the defendant had not committed it.

A 1964 British film, Murder Most Foul, based on an Agatha Christie story, shares several characteristics of Murder!, including a dissatisfied juror who undertakes her own investigation of the crime. However, in Murder Most Foul, the dissatisfied juror is the amateur detective Miss Marple, one of four female jurors on this jury. This movie, like Murder!, also involves the murder of a former actress who had been a member of a theater company. Miss Marple, unlike Sir John, votes not guilty and maintains her position as a holdout juror. As a result, the jury becomes a hung jury (i.e., unable to reach a verdict), and is then dismissed. Miss Marple, true to her avocation as a detective, decides to investigate. To do so, she pretends that she is an actress and auditions for an unpaid place in the company. She is accepted into the theater company and lives and performs with the company members. As a result, she is able to observe the members’ behavior, find evidence in their rooms, uncover motives, and make the actual murderer realize that she is getting close to identifying him. She solves the mystery by setting a trap for the murderer. However, Miss Marple comes prepared, so that when the murderer tries to murder her, she is able to defend herself and to ensure that the murderer is brought to justice.

Murder Most Foul and its predecessor share several characteristics. They are both British films focusing on a murder that involves a theater company, and they both have a holdout juror who is dissatisfied with the jury process and undertakes his or her own subsequent investigation. In the case of Murder!, Sir John, the lone holdout, succumbs to group pressure. He votes “guilty” and the criminal defendant, an actress, is convicted and sentenced to death. However, Sir John is able to track down the actual murderer through his own investigation, and the actress is set free. In Murder Most Foul, Miss Marple stands her ground as a holdout juror, leading to a hung jury. However, she then conducts her own investigation, even though the police have warned her against such interference. She discovers the actual murderer, even though she puts her own life at risk.

In both films, the jury does not fare particularly well. It does not appear to be a body that can get to the truth of the matter at hand. In Murder!, the jury reaches the wrong conclusion, and in Murder Most Foul, it reaches no answer, but only because of Miss Marple’s intransigence; otherwise, it would have reached the wrong answer. Each film requires a juror-as-investigator to arrive at the truth. Although these films depict jurors who are dissatisfied with the verdict, most jurors in actual trials are quite satisfied with their jury experience and form a positive view of the jury (Marder & Hans, 2015, p. 790).

12 Angry Men

A Break with Traditional Jury Films

12 Angry Men, an American film directed by Sidney Lumet and released in 1957, was an outlier in the tradition of jury films. This film, unlike jury films before and after it, focused on the jury’s deliberations. No longer was the jury just a passive body sitting and observing the trial. Instead, the entire film, with the exception of the opening and closing shots, takes place in the jury room and portrays the jury’s deliberations.

12 Angry Men was first produced as a teleplay for the “Studio One” series and had the look and many of the lines found in the subsequent film version. The teleplay was written by Reginald Rose, and it aired on September 26, 1954. It begins with 12 jurors sitting in the jury box in a courtroom, hearing the final instructions from an unseen judge, before they file out of the courtroom and into a claustrophobic, sweltering jury room. They have been charged with deciding whether a 19-year-old had killed his father. The jurors begin by taking a vote; 11 jurors find the defendant guilty, and a single juror, Juror #8, votes not guilty. The rest of their deliberations involve an examination of the evidence, as well as endless bickering and personal taunts. The jurors face a difficult task without much guidance about how best to proceed. They struggle with their own prejudices and shortcomings until finally, they end up voting unanimously for acquittal. In the short teleplay, unlike in the lengthier film, their personalities and backgrounds are not well developed, and it is unclear why Juror #3 changes his mind in the end, except that it is hard to stand alone, as Juror #8 had done at the beginning.

The beginning of the film version of 12 Angry Men shows the bustle of the courthouse and then focuses on a particular courtroom, in which a jury is seated in the jury box, listening to a judge, who is droning on in a monotone. The judge gives the jurors some final instructions before they go into the jury room to deliberate. The audience watches the jurors leave the courtroom. Then they see a close-up of the criminal defendant, a very young man of Puerto Rican descent, who stares with large, beseeching eyes into the camera. He has been charged with the murder of his father. If he is convicted, the sentence is a mandatory death sentence. The rest of the film takes place in the jury room. Thus, this film departs from past jury films in that the audience finally watches an active jury—a jury at work.

The jurors, after some initial small talk, seat themselves according to their juror numbers. Juror #1 had been assigned the role of foreperson, so he serves as administrator, distributing ballots, counting votes, and asking his fellow jurors how they would like to proceed. After some uncertainty, the jurors decide to take a preliminary vote. There are 11 votes for guilty and 1 for not guilty. The one juror voting not guilty is Juror #8, played by Henry Fonda. He explains to his fellow jurors that he does not know if the defendant is guilty or not guilty, but he believes they owe the defendant some “talk,” some discussion (Rose, 1972, p. 177). One juror suggests that they go around the table, with each juror giving his reasons for voting guilty, as they try to persuade Juror #8 to change his mind and his vote. They do not get far before jurors start interrupting and bickering with each other. Juror #8 finally makes a deal with the other jurors. He suggests that they take another vote, this time by secret ballot, and if no other juror votes not guilty, then Juror #8 will capitulate and change his vote. However, if any other juror joins Juror #8 in voting not guilty, then they will continue their deliberations. Indeed, Juror #9 (played by Joseph Sweeney) votes not guilty and explains to his fellow jurors that he did so, not because he knows whether the defendant is guilty or not, but because he recognizes that it is not easy for a juror to stand alone, and he admires the courage that Juror #8 has shown and has decided to support him.

The rest of the film focuses on the jurors’ review of the evidence, as well as their additional investigations, which they conduct for the most part within the confines of the jury room. For example, one piece of evidence is the switchblade knife that was found plunged into the father, but wiped clean of fingerprints. They request the bailiff to bring them the knife. They recall testimony about it and observe that it has a distinctive design. However, Juror #8, who had gone to the defendant’s neighborhood and bought a similarly designed switchblade knife (continuing the theme of juror as investigator), dramatically produces it and shows that it has the same design as the defendant’s knife; thus, undercutting the prosecutor’s argument that it was unique.

At another point, the jurors request an exhibit showing the layout of the apartment. They reenact the testimony of an old man with a limp who lives in the apartment below and claims that he heard a loud voice yelling, “‘I’m going to kill you’” (Rose, 1972, p. 245), and heard footsteps on the stairs and saw the defendant running down the stairs and out the building. The jurors use the blueprint of the apartment to recreate the path that the old man claims to have taken and the amount of time that it would have taken him with his limp to reach the front door. From their reenactment, they determine that he could not have reached the door in time to see the defendant fleeing. Similarly, the jurors put together two other pieces of evidence–that an elevated train was running by the apartment at the same time that a woman in an apartment on the other side of the train track claimed to have seen the murder. They deduce that the woman wore glasses and conclude that in the time that it would have taken the train to pass the apartment, the woman, who had already gone to bed, could not have put on her glasses and looked out the window in time to see the murder. Even though she claimed to have seen the murder, she would have seen it from a distance, and without her glasses.

With each piece of evidence that the jurors scrutinize, they manage to call into question its reliability. With each undertaking, more jurors switch their vote and join Juror #8 in voting not guilty. The jurors who switch sides explain that they now have “a reasonable doubt.” Two turning points come when the most vociferous supporters of a guilty verdict are shown to be motivated by impermissible reasons. Juror #10 reveals that he has a prejudice against Puerto Ricans and does not believe anything they say or do: he finds that “these people lie” (Rose, 1972, p. 312). As Juror #10 delivers his tirade against Puerto Ricans, the other jurors stand up and turn their backs on him. Juror #8 admonishes this juror for letting prejudice cloud his judgment; thereafter, Juror #10 changes his vote to not guilty. Finally, one juror, Juror #3, remains committed to a guilty vote. He maintains that he has a right to be a holdout, but he soon joins the others when he recognizes that his vote was actually motivated by the anger that he feels toward his estranged son.

The jurors were now unanimous in their vote of not guilty, but they did not reach this position easily. They argued with and insulted each other. Their fights were intensified by the heat in the jury room, its meager furnishings, and the locked door, which compelled them to stay in this claustrophobic room. Their personalities and foibles emerged over the course of the deliberations. In addition to Juror #3, who was angry at his son, and Juror #10, who distrusted all Puerto Ricans, Juror #5, who grew up in poverty, was always sure that others were holding his background against him, and Juror #6, a laborer, was reluctant to think for himself. Juror #7, a marmalade salesman, made snap judgments and was more concerned about getting to a baseball game that night than he was about sentencing a young man to death. The shortcomings of these jurors were apparent, yet under the patient tutelage of Juror #8, they were able to engage in a thorough deliberation. In the end, these jurors were not sure whether they reached the right decision; all they could say is that they had a reasonable doubt.

What this film has come to stand for is a jury deliberation in which the jurors are divided 11 to 1, and yet, the lone holdout manages to convince the 11 to change their votes. Social scientists have observed that it is unlikely for just 1 or 2 jurors holding a minority view to adhere to that view in the end (Hans & Vidmar, 1986, p. 110). Usually, if holdout jurors are going to withstand the group pressure, they can do so only if there are 3 or 4 taking that position. It is very hard for a single juror to stand alone against 11, much less to convince the other 11 to change their view (Simon, 1992, p. 263). Perhaps the uphill nature of the battle is what appeals to viewers and is one reason that the film has endured.

Another reason the film has endured is that it does not answer the question whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty; thus, even modern viewers have to draw their own conclusions. Clover argues that even though 12 Angry Men is an anomaly in many ways, it is consistent with the genre of courtroom dramas that leave the viewer to decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty (Clover, 1998b, p. 270). Usually in this type of film, the evidence is presented and tested by lawyers in the courtroom; however, in 12 Angry Men, the evidence is presented and tested by the jurors in the jury room (Ibid.).

Even today, 12 Angry Men continues to challenge viewers, including academics, as to whether the jury reached the right result. Professor Michael Asimow (2007, p. 713), for example, argues that with all the evidence—“the mass of circumstantial evidence”—there was more than enough for the jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Neil Vidmar and several of his colleagues at Duke University School of Law claim that the jury in 12 Angry Men treats circumstantial evidence as less reliable than direct evidence perhaps because the prosecutor relied too heavily on direct evidence rather than circumstantial evidence (Vidmar, Beale, Chemerinsky, & Coleman, 2007, p. 691). Academics with criminal defense experience argue that the film took so many liberties with criminal trials and what a jury can properly do that this film is not a good example of appropriate jury behavior (Weisselberg, 2007, p. 717). Yet, other academics, particularly those who study the jury, continue to believe that the jury reached the right result and that the film captures valuable insights about group dynamics and jury deliberations (Marder, 2006), and that it still conveys “the essence of the jury process” (Landsman, 2007, p. 757).

Over two decades after the film aired, a number of social scientists, working with mock juries, identified two styles of deliberation: “verdict-driven” and “evidence-driven” (Hastie, Penrod, & Pennington, 1983, pp. 163–165). In a verdict-driven deliberation, the jury takes an initial vote, and as a result, coalitions form, and it is hard for jurors to change their position. In contrast, in an evidence-driven deliberation, the jurors contribute recollections and facts without declaring a position; this approach leads to a more thorough and inclusive deliberation. Some organizations, such as the American Judicature Society, have recommended that judges instruct juries to exchange views initially without taking a vote so as to engage in an evidence-driven deliberation and to avoid the more contentious verdict-driven deliberation (American Judicature Society, 1999). Thus, 12 Angry Men, in portraying a verdict-driven deliberation, was ahead of its time in recognizing the dangers of an early vote. After their initial vote, the jurors in 12 Angry Men tried to change course and adopt an evidence-driven style of deliberation. They tried to go around the table, with each juror giving his reasons, but it was too late. The vote had divided the jury into two sides, and it was hard for jurors to abandon their side.

The Influence of 12 Angry Men

When 12 Angry Men appeared in theaters in 1957, critics liked it, but audiences did not. It did not do particularly well at the box office, though it found audiences in art-house cinemas. What is most surprising about 12 Angry Men is that it did not change the way that juries were portrayed in other films (Clover, 1998a). Later films reverted to portraying the jury as a passive body that simply observed the trial and listened attentively. 12 Angry Men seemed to be an anomaly, with no subsequent films adopting its depiction of the jury.

However, 12 Angry Men’s influence spread through other media. There was a television remake of 12 Angry Men in 1997. The remake had a more diverse jury, including women and people of color, than the original film, which had 12 white men (though the original version was diverse in terms of the jurors’ professions, ages, socioeconomic status, original nationality, and personalities) (Ellsworth, 2003, pp. 1401–1402). 12 Angry Men was also performed as a play, with productions on Broadway in New York City in 2004, as well as at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 2006 and at the Goodman Theater in Chicago in 2007.

The reach of 12 Angry Men extended beyond the borders of the United States as well. In Germany, there was a film called Die Konferenz that had a similar plot, though it involved a schoolteachers’ conference rather than a jury’s deliberations (Machura, 2007, p. 778). In Russia, Nikita Mikhalkov, a famous film-maker, produced a Russian version of 12 Angry Men that focuses on a defendant who is a young Chechen fighter charged with killing his stepfather (Thaman, 2007, pp. 798–799). In some countries, such as Spain, which only introduced a jury system in 1995 and had very few jury trials for the first few years of the new law, students still appreciated the American version of 12 Angry Men, which they watched in their law school classrooms (Jimeno-Bulnes, 2007, p. 763).

12 Angry Men not only reached new heights of popularity in the United States–for example, it was voted the sixth most popular movie by IMDb users in April 2016—but it also reached new generations of viewers by being incorporated into television shows. Over the decades, popular shows such as Monk, Veronica Mars, Picket Fences, Happy Days, The Simpsons, and Inside Amy Schumer included an episode with a 12 Angry Men–style plot.

For example, in Season 4 of Monk, which aired in 2006, there was an episode entitled “Mr. Monk Gets Jury Duty.” Monk, who provides detective consulting services to the San Francisco police department, was summoned for jury duty and is seated on a jury, even though he had tried mightily to be excused. Monk, who has germ phobias and dislikes working with other people, has to sit in the same room as the other jurors and learn to work with them. His jury is hearing a case involving an alleged stabbing and robbery. Monk is the only juror to vote not guilty in the initial vote. He figures out that the alleged victim of the stabbing had actually stabbed himself. Monk takes the other jurors through each piece of evidence and shows that the defendant could not have committed the crime. Monk, like Juror #8 in 12 Angry Men, ultimately persuades the other jurors to change their votes, but he does so by getting the other jurors to see the evidence as he does, whereas Juror #8 did not have all the answers on his own but depends on his fellow jurors to contribute their insights to the jury’s understanding of the evidence.

At the same time, Monk also manages to solve another crime that has taken place in the courthouse, one involving a drug kingpin who manages to escape from federal custody with the aid of his fiancée, a juror on Monk’s jury. Thus, the Monk episode uses what 12 Angry Men has come to stand for: a lone juror pitted against 11, and that juror managing to bring the others around to his point of view. However, the Monk episode adds a twist that is appropriate to Monk’s keen powers of detection—he is able to solve not just one case, but two, while serving as a juror.

A current television show that offers another take on 12 Angry Men is Inside Amy Schumer. In an episode from Season 3 in 2015, entitled “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” the set, music, and jurors from 12 Angry Men are faithfully reproduced, only this time, the jury is considering whether Amy Schumer is “hot enough” to be on television. Inside Amy Schumer, which is known for its raunchy humor (Gay, 2016, p. 4), maintains that tone while adhering to the set, characters, and structure of 12 Angry Men. The Schumer episode looks just like the film version and is structured in the same way, albeit in a short form compared to the film. It is shot in black and white; the jury room looks like the jury room in 12 Angry Men; the jurors are dressed in the same attire as the jurors in the film and utter some of the same lines; even the music sounds the same. The episode begins with an opening shot of a courthouse and then moves to a courtroom where a judge is issuing final instructions in a bored monotone. Before the action shifts to the jury room, there is a close-up shot of Amy Schumer, looking imploringly at the camera, just like the young criminal defendant in 12 Angry Men.

The jury room in the episode looks like the jury room in 12 Angry Men: it is sparsely furnished with a long rectangular table, wooden chairs, a fan, and some windows. Indeed, the jurors’ opening actions in the jury room mimic the jurors’ actions in 12 Angry Men. One juror tries to open the window; another sits near the door and talks with a fellow juror; and the juror dressed like the marmalade salesman is pacing to and fro complaining that he is about to miss a concert for which he has tickets. The foreperson tears pieces of paper to create ballots and asks the jurors how they want to proceed. Juror #4, as in the film, volunteers that it is typical to take an initial vote, and the others agree. Much of the evidence in the television episode is presented in the same way as the evidence in 12 Angry Men, though the details are changed to conform to the modern-day question that is put to this jury, which is whether Amy Schumer is “hot enough” to have her own television show.

Although the episode carefully re-creates the look and feel of the 1957 version of 12 Angry Men, the jurors’ discussion in the Amy Schumer version is thoroughly modern. The initial vote is whether Amy Schumer is not hot enough for television; 11 jurors vote that she is not hot enough, and Juror #8 votes that she is, and this 11–to-1 vote requires that they discuss the matter further. The jurors discuss Amy Schumer’s appearance, and one juror describes her as having a “potato face”; others offer equally as colorful and insulting descriptions (“a mouth like a chipmunk”). Their language is profane; their discussion of sex sounds like it belongs more in a locker room than a jury room, and the main exhibit is a dildo. They compare Amy Schumer’s dildo with one that Juror #8 and his wife use and that he brought into the jury room. The two dildos look identical, just like the switchblade knives in 12 Angry Men. Juror #8 explains that even though Amy Schumer has a dildo, that does not mean she is not having sex with men. Although the men start out by suggesting that Amy Schumer is so unattractive that she does not belong on television, by the end, they have reversed course. They decide that even if she is unattractive, they are still willing to have sex with unattractive women, and so they change their votes. When the judge meets Amy Schumer in the courthouse after the verdict—mirroring the ending of 12 Angry Men when the two jurors meet outside the courthouse and shake hands—the judge delivers the good news to her: the jury has found that she is “hot enough for basic cable television.”

When popular television shows base an episode on the plot of 12 Angry Men, they help teach the next generation about the film. Even young people who have never watched 12 Angry Men can learn about its plot by watching a television episode that uses it. This is a way of keeping the storyline alive and passing it on to a new generation. It might also inspire young viewers to go back to the original 1957 film and watch it. But even if they do not take that step, they learn from the television episode what the film stands for: a jury deliberation in which the jurors are divided by an 11-to-1 vote and the one lone juror is able to do the seemingly impossible and persuade 11 other jurors to change their vote.

This encapsulation of 12 Angry Men in television episodes may be yet another reason why the movie endures. Television episodes that use the storyline from 12 Angry Men serve as an advertisement for the movie, enticing a new generation to watch it. However, the television episodes using the plot of 12 Angry Men provide an answer as to guilt or innocence, whereas part of the staying power of the film is that it leaves future generations to decide whether the criminal defendant was guilty or not guilty.

One variation on the 12 Angry Men plot in popular television shows is when one of the main characters is called to serve on a jury, becomes a lone holdout, and maintains that position even though no other jurors switch their votes. This was the basis of an episode of The Andy Griffith Show in 1967 when Aunt Bee, the housekeeper to Andy and his son Okie, serves as a juror in a nearby town. Aunt Bee is the only woman on that jury, which hears a case involving a burglary. Aunt Bee’s steadfastness keeps the jury deliberating for several days, but she does not manage to win any other jurors’ votes. The male jurors think she is being unreasonable, until the real thief is caught in the courtroom. Similarly, an episode of All in the Family from 1971 centers on Edith, Archie Bunker’s wife, who has been called for jury duty. She, too, becomes the lone holdout on her jury, deliberating about whether a young Puerto Rican committed a murder, and the other jurors cannot understand her position. While her jury is deliberating and is then declared a hung jury, the real culprit is caught. In both episodes, a woman serves as a juror, becomes a lone holdout, and is ridiculed by her fellow jurors, only to be vindicated when someone else admits to the crime.

Modern Jury Films

There are just a few modern jury films, and these generally take two different approaches to the jury. One approach is to focus on juror misconduct, and the other is a return to the dissatisfied juror who undertakes his or her own investigation.

Juror Misconduct

Runaway Jury, which appeared in theaters in 2003, exemplifies the modern jury film that portrays juror misconduct, albeit in a sympathetic light. The film suggests that juror misconduct is necessary to level the playing field in a legal system in which the party with the most money can essentially purchase a verdict by hiring corrupt jury consultants who will stop at nothing (including violence) to secure a victory. The film, based on a novel by John Grisham, is set in New Orleans, Louisiana. It focuses on a civil lawsuit brought by a widow whose husband was killed by a disgruntled employee wielding a gun and shooting random employees at his former workplace. The widow brings suit against the gun manufacturer that made and distributed the gun that was used to kill her husband. Such lawsuits still have resonance as mass shootings, especially in the United States, continue unabated (Clines, 2016, p. A18). In the film, both sides hire jury consultants to gain an advantage. The gun manufacturer hires Rankin Fitch, reputed to be the best-known and most unscrupulous jury consultant in the business.

One of the jurors, Nick Easter, has worked assiduously to get on this jury, even though to all outward appearances he had tried to get excused from jury duty. Like Monk, who offered so many excuses in “Mr. Monk Gets Jury Duty” that the judge insisted that he serve, Nick offers such trivial excuses that here, too, the judge almost insists that he serve. Once seated on the jury, Nick Easter tries to establish good working relations with all the other jurors.

It soon becomes clear that Nick has an agenda, and aided by his girlfriend, who uses the name Marlee as she negotiates with plaintiff and defendant, he tries to start a bidding war between both sides. Nick promises to swing the jury verdict to whichever side agrees to pay the couple $10 million. The idealistic lawyer for the plaintiff soon realizes that he could not live with himself if he paid for the verdict, but the corrupt jury consultant working for the defendant has no such qualms. He wires $15 million to the couple’s bank account in the Caribbean. (The amount went up by $5 million after Marlee was attacked by one of Rankin Fitch’s henchmen.)

After the wire has been received, Nick argues strongly for the plaintiff during deliberations. It turns out that Marlee’s sister had been killed 10 years earlier during a mass shooting at a school, and Rankin Fitch had been the jury consultant to the gun manufacturer when the families brought a losing suit against the company. Nick and Marlee will use the money from the corrupt jury consultant to give back to the community that had suffered so grievously, first by the gun killings and then by the lack of justice in the courts.

In Runaway Jury, Nick Easter engages in egregious juror misconduct, but it is misconduct for a good cause. The message of the film is that the court system has gone awry. Verdicts can be bought by the highest bidder, and in such a rigged system, ordinary people have little recourse. Wealthy and powerful corporations, intent only upon maintaining their profits, care little if their products are killing people. (In the film, it is guns; in the novel, it is tobacco.) These corporations can use their money and power to hire those who will thwart the court system, such as jury consultants, and will use any means to ensure that verdicts go their way.

Nick does not view his conduct as wrong, but as creating a level playing field. He begins his jury duty with an agenda and has a fixed view of the case, so he can hardly be said to be an impartial juror, as the jury system and his juror’s oath require. However, he believes that he is keeping the defendant from running away with the jury. The film is certainly an indictment of the legal system if jurors must engage in extreme misconduct in order to ensure that both sides have a fair chance of winning. Nick is a runaway juror, and it looks like he is going to produce a runaway jury for the highest bidder; however, looks can be deceiving. In the end, he is a runaway juror because he wants to thwart the runaway jury that the defendant, through its wealth, power, and lack of scruples, would otherwise produce.

The Threatened Juror

Another twist on the holdout juror is presented in The Juror, a 1998 film starring Demi Moore as Annie, a juror selected in a Mafia case, and Alec Baldwin as the Teacher, a henchman for the Mafia boss on trial. Annie is selected for this trial, even though she has a son about the same age as one of the victims, because she had never heard of the Mafia boss or any of the alleged crimes with which he had been charged. As soon as Annie is selected, she is targeted by the Teacher, who has her house and phone bugged, and who informs her that she and her son, Oliver, are in danger if she does not vote not guilty in the trial. Amazingly (and quite unrealistically), the jury is not sequestered until it begins its deliberations. This leaves the Teacher with plenty of time to show Annie that he is serious about his threats—he kills other people to drive home the point. When Annie tries going to the judge to explain what is happening to her, the judge insists that he will hear what she has to say only if the defense lawyer and prosecutor are present. Since she believes that the Teacher will kill her and her son if he finds out she went to the judge, she cannot pursue that route.

At the start of deliberations, Annie and another juror (who is also being threatened by the Mafia) vote not guilty in the initial vote that the jury takes. Annie doubts that she can convince the other 10 jurors to change their vote. All that she believes she can do is remain firm as a holdout. However, the Teacher manages to speak to her in the hotel in which she is sequestered and to tell her that she must wear a bugging device during deliberations and that she must convince the other 10 jurors to join her in the not-guilty vote. He wants an acquittal, not a hung jury, and her son’s life depends on it. Annie returns to the jury and argues with vigor and passion since her son’s life is in the balance. She, like Juror #8 in 12 Angry Men, manages to convince the other jurors to change their vote. However, unlike Juror #8, she is disgusted by the position that she must espouse, but believes it is the only way to save her son’s life.

After the jury acquits the Mafia boss, the prosecutor suspects that Annie was threatened and promises her protection if she testifies as to what happened. However, Annie does not put much faith in the government’s ability to protect her and her son from someone who seems to know every move that she makes and who has continued to threaten her and kill people around her. Annie puts her son in the care of a close friend, an American doctor serving in Guatemala, and in what can only be described as an elaborate cat-and-mouse scheme, manages ultimately to ensnare and kill the Teacher.

The Juror, like several other modern jury films, focuses on a holdout juror, but this juror is a coerced holdout. She has no doubt, like the other 10 jurors, that the Mafia boss is guilty and that the government has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Like Runaway Jury, this film suggests that corrupt actors, in this case the defendant and his paid assassins, will lead to an incorrect verdict, and even the jury is not sufficiently independent to change this outcome. If the jurors are under threat, as Annie was in this film, then they cannot vote based on their actual views and must succumb to the pressure exerted by those who are willing to kill them and their loved ones. Like Runaway Jury, one message of this film is that if the participants in the trial process are corrupt, then the jury system cannot work as it should. It falls to the holdout juror, once she has concluded her jury service, to figure out stratagems that will keep her and her son alive. The Teacher employs violence nonchalantly, and in the end, Annie must resort to violence to put an end to the Teacher.

The Dissatisfied Juror as Lawyer-Investigator

One Angry Juror, a television film that aired on November 15, 2010, returns to a theme from Murder! and Murder Most Foul, in which a holdout juror ends up pursuing a case after her jury service has ended. In this instance, however, the holdout juror is Sarah Walsh, a lawyer, and she agrees to represent the criminal defendant in the retrial after a hung jury in the original trial. Walsh is a corporate lawyer in Chicago, who has been summoned for jury service. She is selected to serve in the criminal trial of Walter Byrd, a young African-American man, who has been charged with the murder of another African-American man. The only evidence against Walter is that the attacker was wearing a black hoodie and black-and-white Air Jordan sneakers, and Walter was wearing similar clothing that day. There is no physical evidence that links him to the murder, though; there is only the testimony of the victim’s sister, who claims that she saw the hooded man in a ski mask and recognized him as Walter.

The jury begins its deliberations by taking a vote. The vote is 11 to 1 in favor of guilt, with only Sarah Walsh voting not guilty. She explains to her fellow jurors that the prosecutor has not established Walter Byrd’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Although she manages to persuade a few other jurors to vote not guilty, she does not manage a complete turnaround in the manner of Juror #8 in 12 Angry Men. The jury explains to the judge that it has reached an impasse, and the judge declares it to be a hung jury. The government decides to retry Walter Byrd.

Sarah Walsh is drawn further into the case by Walter’s grandmother, Mahalia, who beseeches her to represent Walter in the retrial. Walsh, working with the public defender and his investigator, tracks down one of the alibi witnesses, who agrees to testify but ends up dying of a drug overdose before he can do so. She also obtains the police records, which the police officer in the case had “misplaced” during the first trial because the records revealed discrepancies between the eyewitness’s testimony in court and her earlier testimony on the day of the murder. Walsh, in her closing argument to the jury, surmises that the police just looked for an African-American man to blame for the murder, without devoting very much time or resources to whether they had found the right one. In fact, the murder, which was most likely carried out by one drug dealer because another drug dealer was encroaching on his territory, was instead blamed on Walter, a man who had no criminal record and no history of drug dealing.

When Sarah Walsh had sat as a juror in the first trial, she believed that the prosecution had not proven its case against Walter beyond a reasonable doubt, but she did not know whether Walter had committed the murder or not. It was only through her investigative work as Walter’s lawyer that she came to the conclusion that he had not. One Angry Juror, like the early jury films Murder! and Murder Most Foul, shows that the task of a juror is limited to deciding whether the prosecution has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, but the jury does not necessarily know the truth of the matter. Just as the holdout jurors in those early films conducted their own investigations after their jury service had ended, Walsh conducts her own investigation, in her capacity as Walter Byrd’s lawyer. In all three of the more recent films discussed here, the result of the additional investigation by the former holdout juror is that the defendant is proved to be innocent. Thus, all three films show that if the work of the police, the prosecutor, or the judge is inadequate, then the jury might reach an incorrect verdict or no verdict at all (MacKillop & Vidmar, 2015, p. 980). Miss Marple and Sarah Walsh, by standing their ground as holdout jurors, prevented a miscarriage of justice, even though they were not in a position to know whether the defendant was innocent. It was only after they completed their jury service and undertook additional investigation that they were able to uncover sufficient evidence to establish the defendant’s innocence.

The Holdout Juror as an Ongoing Theme

What many jury films, both old and new, have in common is the focus on the holdout juror. Two early films, Murder! and Murder Most Foul, both have holdout jurors. In the former, the holdout juror quickly succumbs and the jury convicts; in the latter, the holdout juror produces a hung jury. In both instances, the holdout jurors decide to conduct further investigation because they believe that the defendant did not commit the crime. In modern jury films, such as One Angry Juror, the holdout juror stands her ground and eventually wins over some, but not all, of the jurors. The jury reaches an impasse, and the judge declares it to be a hung jury. The holdout juror in One Angry Juror also agrees to conduct further investigations, and even to represent the defendant in his retrial. In the retrial, the defendant is finally acquitted by a jury. In The Juror, one of two holdout jurors manages to convince the other 10 jurors to take her view, but she does so under duress. None of the usual protections, such as the judge or the government, work in this case to protect a juror and her son from the violence that a defendant and his assassins are willing to employ. Once again, the holdout juror is forced to act, after her jury service has been completed, and to take matters into her own hands, but it is to free herself from her tormentor rather than to achieve justice in the case.

Even 12 Angry Men, which is an unusual jury film because almost the entire film is devoted to the jury’s deliberations, involves a holdout juror, Juror #8. In this film, however, the holdout juror does his investigation while serving as a juror. He goes to the defendant’s neighborhood and purchases a switchblade knife identical to the one the defendant’s father was murdered with, even though the prosecutor described that knife as unique. The holdout juror also asks for exhibits, such as the blueprint of the apartment, to be sent into the jury room so that the jury can continue its investigation. The jury has to make up for what the defense attorney had failed to do during the trial. What is unusual about the holdout juror in 12 Angry Men is that he is not only able to stand his ground when 11 jurors are against him, but also he is able to change the minds and votes of the other 11 jurors. As the elderly juror, Juror #9, explains to his fellow jurors: “This gentleman (Indicating #8) has been standing alone against us. . . . Well, it’s not easy to stand alone against the ridicule of others, even when there’s a worthy cause” (Rose, 1972, p. 219).

There are several reasons why so many jury films and television programs focus on the holdout juror. One reason is because it creates drama. The viewer does not know if the holdout juror will manage to stand his or her ground. Then, there is further drama because the viewer does not know who is right: the holdout or the other jurors. In 12 Angry Men, the viewer is never given the answer, and that might be part of the film’s allure. In contrast, in most of the jury films and television episodes using the plot of 12 Angry Men, the viewer learns in the end whether the holdout was right or not. Another reason to focus on the holdout juror is that this juror is acting on his or her moral conviction, and that is an admirable, albeit difficult, stance to take. As the elderly juror in the teleplay of 12 Angry Men explains, it takes courage to remain a holdout juror. This is why Juror #3 in the teleplay succumbs when he is in that situation, and indeed, why most holdout jurors succumb in actual juries unless there are several other jurors who stand with them from the beginning.

We, as viewers, identify with the holdout juror. We would like to believe that if we were in the same situation, we would be willing to stand our ground. Although social scientists suggest that this is a hard position for actual jurors to maintain, through jury films and television programs, we can hold onto the hope that we, too, would act in accordance with our principles.

Further Reading

Asimow, M., & Mader, S. (2013). Law and popular culture: A course book. New York: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

Bergman, P., & Asimow, M. (1996). Reel justice: The courtroom goes to the movies. Kansas City, MO: Andrews and McMeel.Find this resource:

Greenfield, S., Osborn, G., & Robson, P. (2010). Film and the law. Oxford and Portland, OR: Hart Publishing.Find this resource:

Marder, N. (Ed.). (2007). Symposium: The 50th anniversary of 12 angry men. Chicago Kent Law Review, 82, 551–899.Find this resource:

Munyan, R. (Ed.). (2000). Readings on twelve angry men. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc.Find this resource:

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