California Law Regarding Jury Coercion
In Inouye v. Pacific Southwest Airlines (1981) 126 Cal. App. 3d 648, the Court considered whether a trial court had coerced a jury's verdict by giving the following instruction:
"'It is eminently desirable that if you reasonably can, you agree upon a verdict. For the parties involved, the case is an important one, and its presentation to you has involved expense to both sides. If you fail to agree upon a verdict, the case will have to be tried before another jury selected in the same manner and from the same source as you were chosen. There is no reason to believe that the case will ever be submitted to a jury more competent to decide it. Of course, by pointing out to you the desirability of your reaching a verdict, the Court is not suggesting to any of you that you surrender conscious convictions of what the truth is and of the weight and effect of all the evidence. It does, however, wish to call to your attention that in most cases absolute certainty cannot be expected, and that while each of you must decide the case for yourself and not merely acquiesce in the conclusion of your fellow jurors, you should examine the questions submitted to you with candor and frankness and with proper deference to a regard for the opinion of others.
"'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 decisions 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 that juror's own judgment if that juror finds a large majority of the jury taking a different view of the case. It cannot be that each juror should go to the jury room with a blind determination that the verdict shall represent that juror's opinion of the case at that moment or that that juror should not listen to the arguments of others who are equally honest and intelligent as that juror.
"'It is your duty after full deliberation and consideration of all the evidence to agree upon a verdict, if you can do so, without violating your individual judgment and your conscience.
"'Now, in light of this instruction, I'm going to ask you to go back and make one more endeavor. Discuss the case a little more. Keep in mind that there's no reason to believe that the case will ever be submitted to a jury more competent to decide it, and see if you can arrive at a verdict that is the true verdict in the opinion of nine or more of you.'" (Id. at pp. 650-651.)
The Inouye court noted that the instruction had been banned for use in criminal cases because of the instruction's references to the need for a retrial in the case of a mistrial, and its entreaties to minority jurors to reconsider their own judgment. (Inouye, supra, 126 Cal. App. 3d at p. 651, citing People v. Gainer (1977) 19 Cal.3d 835, 139 Cal. Rptr. 861.)
However, the court observed that civil and criminal cases differed in many ways, including the fact that the burden of proof is lower in civil cases, and that unanimity of jurors is not required to achieve a verdict in a civil case. (Inouye, supra, 126 Cal. App. 3d at p. 651.)
These differences led the Inouye court to conclude that the fact that a trial court gives such an instruction in a civil case does not necessarily justify a finding of prejudicial error.
The court stated:
"Rather, any coercive effect should be determined by reading the instruction as a whole in light of the surrounding circumstances. Only when the instruction has coerced the jurors into surrendering their conscientious convictions in order to reach agreement should the verdict be overturned." (Id. at p. 651.)
Other courts have described in greater detail some of the circumstances a court might consider in determining whether such a jury instruction is coercive.
For example, in Reazin v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, Inc. (D. Kan. 1987) 663 F. Supp. 1360, 1445, affirmed and remanded on other grounds (1990) 899 F.2d 951, the court opined:
"In determining whether a supplemental instruction is coercive, consideration is to be given to all the circumstances existing at the time the instruction was given, such as whether the jury was deadlocked, whether the charge instructed the jurors that they were not required to give up their conscientiously held convictions, whether the court had a colloquy with the foreman, whether the court set a limit on the length of the deliberations, and whether the terms of the charge were obnoxious."