What Is an Allen Charge to the Jury ?

The Allen charge gets its name from Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492 (1896), in which the Supreme Court sanctioned an instruction a trial court may give to a deadlocked jury.) In U.S. v. Williams, 547 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2008), during deliberations, a holdout juror sent a note to the court stating that she disagreed with the other jurors on two counts, which she identified, and that she was being "bombarded" by the other jurors to change her mind. In response, and over a motion for mistrial by the defense, the trial court gave the jury a modified Allen charge. About five hours later, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty on all counts. On appeal, Williams argued that, under the circumstances, it was coercive for the trial court to give the modified Allen charge, instead of granting a mistrial. The Court of Appeals agreed. It stated: "When a juror clearly discloses to the trial court that she disagrees with the rest of the jury and that she cannot return a different verdict . . . the trial court cannot give a supplemental instruction instructing the jury to continue deliberating." Williams, 547 F.3d at 1207. The court observed that when there are holdout jurors who are identified to the court, and know the court knows who they are, "the holdout jurors could interpret the instruction to continue deliberating, including a modified Allen charge as directed specifically at them." Id.